Hospitals with unacceptably high rates of infection or patient mortality should have their funding withheld, a UNSW patient safety expert says.

Director of UNSW Medicine's Centre for Clinical Governance Research, Professor Jeffrey Braithwaite says Australia should follow the USA's lead and create financial disincentives for failing to improve patient safety.

Professor Braithwaite made the call ahead of the National Forum on Safety and Quality in Health Care in Canberra this week.

He says some radical but simple shifts are necessary to reduce the rate of patient harm in hospital, which currently sits at 10 percent in most developed countries.

"Worldwide, there are around 10,000 deaths caused by errors and adverse events in healthcare every day," Professor Braithwaite said.

"There are some radical things coming out of the USA health reforms such as not paying hospitals their fees when they allow patients to get infections.

"If hospitals slip up and don't give the care that's appropriate for patients, then they don't get paid for that."

Professor Braithwaite says that health care authorities are funded for treating patients well, so there should be financial disincentives for not treating patients properly.

"It's puzzling why the Australian government hasn't moved to do this while a health system as big and fragmented as the American health system has managed to enshrine this in legislation under President Obama's new health reform," he said.

"We have a much more coherent, collaborative society and stronger health system and yet we still haven't taken some bold steps.

"There's an awful lot that could be done for patient care by clinicians right across the whole health system, but the focus seems to be more on the hierarchy of the health system, and restructuring."

The National Forum brings together key national and international figures in health care to collaborate on sharing best-practice solutions and thinking on safety and quality issues.

The Australian Council on Healthcare Standards (ACHS), the primary host of the forum, is the principal independent authority on the measurement and implementation of quality improvement systems for Australian health care organisations. Other National Forum hosts include ACT Health, the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care. The meeting is sponsored by HESTA.

Read Professor Braithwaite's opinion piece in The Weekend Australian here.

Media contact: Steve Offner, UNSW Media | 02 9385 8107