Elective surgery wait times almost double in 20 years

Elective surgery wait times are now the longest on record, according to the Australian Medical Association’s Public Hospital Report Card. 

Australians are now waiting almost twice as long on average for planned surgery than they were 20 years ago.

Median wait times for planned surgery are at their longest on record at 49 days, compared to 27 days in 2003. 

On top of the growing wait times for planned surgery, the growing population has outpaced the number of hospital beds becoming available.

Between 2017-18 and 2021-22, 1,220 new public hospital beds became available while the Australian population grew by more than 1 million in the same period.

This decreased public hospital capacity from 2.53 beds per 1000 people to 2.47 beds per 1000 people. 

While emergency departments have continued to see the most urgent category 1 cases in the recommended time frames — less urgent category 4 and 5 cases are waiting longer and longer. 

In 2022-23, 56 per cent of emergency presentations were completed in the recommended time of four hours or less. 

Despite this, funding for public hospitals has continued to grow. The federal government spent $105.8 billion in the 2020-21 period while states and local governments spent $70 billion. 

‘Action is needed now’

A man with greying hair and wearing a suit and glasses looks at the camera
Australian Medical Association president Steve Robson says the report card shows the need for more funding. ( ABC News: Simon Beardsell)

AMA president Steve Robson said the report demonstrated the need for urgent action on top of existing reform plans. 

“Last year, we welcomed the federal government’s announcement of a significant public funding boost to the hospital funding agreement and the decision to replace the 6.5 per cent funding growth cap with a more generous approach,” Professor Robson said.

“This announcement followed tireless AMA advocacy for funding reform. But the new agreement will still need more investment and agreement by all health ministers.

“It also doesn’t come into effect until 2025. Urgent action is needed now. Australians are now waiting almost twice as long, on average, for planned surgery than they were 20 years ago, which is unacceptable.” 

The AMA will be calling for action ahead of a meeting of health ministers on Friday.

They are asking for the federal and state governments to invest $4.12 billion in a national plan to address the growing backlog of planned surgeries until the new funding agreement is implemented.

© 2020 Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved.
ABC Content Disclaimer


  1. I have been waiting for elective surgery for 3 years now and its playing with my head so I am not even sure I will be around by the time they are ready to operate.It is an overnight operation and they keep telling me they are short of beds and money. I dont have health insurance but if I did it would have been done 2 years ago so come on state and federal governments do the right thing with more funding .

    • The absolute huge reason that I, a single person on pension, will never give up my PHI. I’ve had 2 procedures in past 3 years, both done within 6 weeks of seeing surgeon. A neighbor has a similar problem, no PHI, has been waiting 2 years, had procedure cancelled twice, now no idea of when will be done. She has now taken out PHI at huge cost, will wait 12 months, then get it done. Even her specialist advised this. I am relatively healthy, but I know, had my 2 procedures been delayed I would not have the good quality of life I now have. I will never give it up.

  2. In regional Queensland people are waiting months or years to see a specialist, not just for surgery. My husband, who has cancer, has been waiting to see a urologist for over 6 months now. That’s 6 months of regular hospital appointments to have a catheter replaced. If, when he eventually does get an appointment, he needs surgery, I expect he’ll be on another waiting list.

  3. It really is bad. We do have private cover, because I knew I’d need surgery (joint replacements for now), and I have no intention of being in a ward. I’m almost 65 and have never been in one in my life!

    I’m on Social Security Disability income from the US, and my check pays for our private cover, usually a quarter or a third goes for that. We live in a regional area, very few specialists come here. We’re going in June to see my ortho surgeon actually. And in December for a neurologist to try and find out why I’m tripping over invisible dust among other things.

    We do get aid from PATS, but it’s a fight sometimes. They *know* I have to fly, the last time we took the train, I was in bed for a week recovering from the ride! They also pay some of the accommodation, thank goodness for Afterpay to pay the rest of our hotel, etc.

    I know we’re lucky to be able to have private cover, but it does keep going up every year 🙁

- Our Partners -


- Advertisment -
- Advertisment -