Long wait times for elective surgery

More Australians are undergoing elective surgery and receiving emergency department care in public hospitals, causing wait times to increase in most states and territories, according to new information from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The information on Elective Surgery Waiting Times and Emergency Department Care in 2018–19 has been released and includes national, state and territory, local hospital network and hospital-specific data on the AIHW’s upgraded MyHospitals platform.

Elective surgery waiting times
The new information shows that 890,000 patients were added to public hospital elective surgery waiting lists during 2018–19, while only 760,000 patients were admitted for their surgery in the same period, explained AIHW spokesperson Dr Adrian Webster.

“Although the number of patients added to waiting lists during the year was 2.2 per cent higher than the previous year, this growth was less than the average growth in the number of people added each year over the past five years (2.5 per cent),” Dr Webster said.

“The number of patients receiving their awaited surgery increased by 1.2 per cent from the previous year. This was less than the average of 2.1 per cent growth per year in the number of people receiving surgery since 2014–15 but higher than the 0.1 per cent increase the previous year.


“Growth in the number of people receiving elective surgery in public hospitals is not keeping up with demand for elective surgery.”

In terms of how long people are on waiting lists for elective surgery, half of all patients were admitted for elective surgery within 41 days of being added to the waiting list, up from 40 days the previous year and 35 days in 2014–15.

At the state and territory level, the median waiting time (the time within which half of all patients were admitted for their awaited surgery) varied from 28 days in Victoria to 57 days in Tasmania. The proportion of patients admitted within the clinically recommended time ranged from 60.4 per cent in Tasmania to 97.0 per cent in NSW.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians tended to wait longer than other Australians for elective surgery, with a median wait time of 50 days compared to 40 days.

Emergency department care
The latest emergency department data shows that there were 8.4 million presentations to Australian public hospital emergency departments in the past year – an average of about 23,000 presentations per day and up 4.2 per cent on 2017–18.

“In 2018-19, 71 per cent of patients were seen on time for their urgency category, down from 74 per cent in 2014-15. All patients in the most urgent category, ‘Resuscitation’, were seen immediately,” Dr Webster said.

“Three quarters of patients in the second-most urgent category ‘Emergency’ were seen within the required 10 minutes.

“The proportion of emergency department patients seen on time ranged from 46 per cent in the ACT to 78 per cent in NSW.”

What is the longest you have waited for elective surgery?

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