ACT News

ACT elective surgery waiting times remain high

Some ACT patients are facing median waits of up to 476 days for elective orthopaedic surgery that should be done within a year. 

ACT Health data reveals that last year 726 patients waited longer than recommended for elective surgery, including 450 patients who should have reached the operating table within 90 days and 275 who waited more than a year for surgery that should have been done with 365 days. 

About 98 per cent of patients who needed urgent surgery last year were seen on time, compared with nearly three-quarters of patients needing semi-urgent elective surgery and 87 per cent of patients who had non-urgent surgery. 

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More than 1400 people were waiting to have elective surgery at Canberra or Calvary hospitals as of August. Orthopaedic, ears, nose and throat (ENT) and ophthalmology were the specialities involved with the most patients waiting for elective surgery. 

Overall ear, nose and throat (ENT) and orthopaedic had the longest median waiting times. 

The longest median wait for some orthopaedic patients was 476 days for elective surgeries that should have been done with a year. The shortest median waiting time for non-urgent operations was 23 days.  Patients who should have reached the operating table within 90 days faced waits of up to 174 days. Six patients on the waiting list required surgery within 30 days but these instances were no longer than recommended median waits. 

Overall, orthopaedic elective surgeries had a median wait of 86 days last year, down from 140 days in 2009-10. 

For ear, nose and throat elective surgery, the longest median waiting times for non-urgent operations was 345 days and 223 days for semi-urgent operations. 

Four patients waited for surgery within 30 days although most surgeons were shown as having no median wait and two had median waits of up to 10 days. 

Overall, median wait times for ENT operations were 154 days last year, down from 200 in 2009-10. 

ACT Health deputy director-general Stephen Goggs said median wait times had improved dramatically in recent years and were now at their lowest levels since 2002-03.

There were 11,780 elective surgeries performed last year - the highest ever number in a single year for the ACT.

"There has been increased funding for access to elective surgery and that has increased the number of public hospital cases that we've been able to perform each year," Mr Goggs said. 

"We've also increased the number of beds available in the public hospitals, both at Canberra and Calvary, which isn't just for elective surgery cases but has the benefit of being able to put more elective surgery through the hospital. 

"And we've also entered in partnerships with the private sector to enable to public cases to be dealt with in that private setting."

Median waiting times for elective surgery have fallen from 73 days five years ago to 48 days last year.

Australian Medical Association ACT president Dr Elizabeth Gallagher said the elective surgery waiting list data indicated most patients were being seen "well within" recommended timeframes.

"It seems on the whole we are on track and that's evidenced by the fact that we have had a reduction in waiting times and waiting lists," she said. 

Opposition leader Jeremy Hanson said some patients were still having to wait longer than they should for elective surgery in the ACT.

"It's important we remember these statistics are real people who are suffering and what can happen is that delays in surgery not only causes discomfort and pain but can lead to other complications," he said. 

"The stark reality is we still have the longest waiting times for elective surgery in the country."

Mr Goggs said only about 6 per cent of public hospital activity in the ACT related to elective surgery.