More than 34,000 extra hospital beds will be available to help Australia deal with the coronavirus pandemic under a new deal struck with the private sector.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said the deal was a significant stride in increasing the system's capacity while guaranteeing the viability of all 657 private hospitals.
The agreement will mean more than 105,000 full and part-time hospital staff, including 57,000 nurses and midwives, will keep their jobs and join the fight against coronavirus, Mr Hunt said on Tuesday.
It effectively puts all hospital beds in Australia under a single partnership.
Mr Hunt said the private sector had agreed to be fully flexible in what it could offer.
That could include taking on public hospital services, setting up flu clinics or testing services in day hospitals, exchanging staff and equipment, making their intensive care units available or providing support for patients coming from aged care homes.
"They have committed to be flexible in a way that is beyond conception," he told reporters in Canberra.
"Whilst we're not taking ownership, we have struck a partnership, where in return for the state agreements and the commonwealth guarantee, they will be fully integrated within the public hospital system."
The deal is expected to coast an extra $1.3 billion.
At the same time, the government is working to immediately double and then triple the number of ICU beds with ventilators.
At the moment there are about 2200 ventilated intensive care beds available, although only about 20 are currently being used by coronavirus patients.
Deputy chief medical officer Nick Coatsworth said that was being expanded immediately to 4400 by repurposing other ventilators, such as those used for anaesthetics, and the private sector's capacity.
"We are working around the clock to procure ventilators," he said.
Manufacturer ResMed is also now making 500 intensive care ventilators and another 5000 non-invasive ones, expected to be completed by the end of April.
The government's overall target is to have 7500 beds with ventilators and accompanying staff.
Mr Hunt said that aim was based on the absolute worst-case modelling, but the signs so far were that Australia would not reach that staggering rate.
Victoria is set to announce its own deal with private hospitals, providing an extra 9000 beds.
"It will not matter whether you have private health insurance. Your bank balance, your paycheque will not be a consideration," Victorian Health Minister Jenny Mikakos said.
The Australian Private Hospitals Association said the deal with the federal government would help make up for the loss of elective surgery, being put on hold during the pandemic.
"There was no revenue coming through the door (from elective surgery), which means it was very difficult for us to pay our nurses, maintain buildings and maintain that capacity," the association's chief executive Michael Roff said.
Australian Associated Press