Some Perth hospitals have slipped back in their ability to treat patients in emergency departments within four hours, despite being once well ahead of those in other States, a report shows.
But doctors have warned that hospitals are already doing their best with limited resources, and are likely to struggle more in light of incoming Federal and State hospital funding cuts.
A National Health Performance Authority report lists Royal Perth, Fremantle and Joondalup hospitals as among the least improved hospitals last year for public emergency department wait times but says overall there has been a marked improvement in the number of Australian patients admitted or discharged within four hours.
Medical groups said that national monitoring was a valuable way to track progress, but it was now in doubt after the Federal Government's decision to cut hospital funding, including scrapping the National Partnership Agreement which sets emergency department targets and offers reward payments to States.
The Australasian College for Emergency Medicine said the decision to stop the agreement from July next year on the grounds of the States' limited performance was short-sighted because the targets themselves were never the main focus, but rather the process of improving patient care.
College WA faculty chairman Dave Mountain, who is also Australian Medical Association WA emergency medicine spokesman, said reforms had helped hospitals make significant gains but to maintain the momentum they needed ongoing resourcing.
"It's not just about emergency departments, but what's happening at the back door of hospitals and upstairs in the wards," Dr Mountain said.
"It's a bad time for the Federal Government to start defunding the programs that underpin the reforms, and for the State Government to pull back on what it is investing."
WA, the first State to introduce the four-hour rule, was expected to admit or discharge 81 per cent of patients in that time frame last year but managed only 77.8 per cent.
The latest WA Health Department report shows hospitals managed to see 79 per cent of patients within four hours in the March quarter.