Doctors are worried public hospital patients will be forced to wait longer for treatment after the State Government's mid-year economic review warned the Health Department could be forced to limit services.
The Government said it planned to reduce a subsidy that this year made up the $167 difference between the State's nominated unit price for public hospital services and the lesser amount the Commonwealth uses as a national benchmark for its activity-based funding to States.
The mid-year review said another problem was that the actual cost for each patient activity in WA in 2012-13 was higher than the estimate used in its 2013-14 Budget.
It warned the Health Department might need to "constrain activity levels through active demand management".
Shadow health minister Roger Cook said it was Government-talk for longer waiting times for patients.
"The review has identified a range of risks to the health budget which suggest costs are reeling out of control and that cost per patient incident is a time bomb for the health budget," he said.
"Essentially what they're saying is we need to make patients wait or get them out of hospital earlier just to meet our budgetary measures.
"That means patients will be missing out on elective surgery and other hospital care, so waiting lists will grow."
Australian Medical Association WA vice-president Michael Gannon said that, while it was appropriate to stop waste in the public hospital system, reforms could go only so far before patient care was threatened.
"Our concern is there's not much more that can be squeezed out of the system and that includes reducing the length of stay in hospital," he said.
"Governments like to talk about not affecting front-line services but if you get rid of a couple of medical typists then letters take three weeks longer to get to GPs or you get medication errors."
Health Minister Kim Hames said the department had several "demand management strategies" to reach the national pricing model, including reducing the average hospital stay through early- discharge planning and boosting home-based care.