PRUNING THE LIST: ACT Health director-general Peggy Brown. Photo: Supplied
The ACT government is shifting more people into private hospitals for elective surgery to try to cut the number of patients who have waited too long for operations.
Figures to be published by the Productivity Commission on Thursday, show that in 2012-13, almost 28 per cent of ACT public patients needing elective surgery faced extended waits.
The government has been forced again to defend its new system for tackling waiting lists after the ACT Visiting Medical Officers (VMO) Association renewed claims that the approach was akin to manipulation of performance data.
ACT Health director-general Peggy Brown has rejected the claims as ''nonsense'' and said the number of patients receiving surgery had increased in the three months since the approach was introduced.
The territory's public hospitals were directed at the end of last year to prioritise category two elective surgery patients, who would be treated within the 90-day national benchmark.
At the same time, the government says it is trying to reduce the number of patients who have been waiting too long for operations, including by funnelling more into private facilities at the same cost to the taxpayer for a procedure in the public system.
Peter Hughes, president of the ACT VMO Association, said prioritising new entries to waiting lists meant patients who had waited longer than 90 days would be left on waiting lists indefinitely.
Dr Hughes said the ACT should have a ''first on, first off'' process to ensure equity in the system.
However, Dr Brown said it was ''simply not true'' that category two patients who had waited longer than 90 days were forgotten.
''Currently for category two we have 401 people who are on the long wait list,'' she said.
''At January 1, 2013, that [figure] was 744.
''I believe our results are actually speaking for themselves.
''Whilst we're preventing people from becoming long waits, we're not forgetting people who are already long waits.''
Dr Brown said that in the past 12 months, the number of ''long-wait'' patients across all categories of surgery had fallen from 901 to 583.
Most of those surgeries were still being performed in the public system at either the Canberra Hospital or Calvary Hospital.
In the 2012-13 financial year, 191 patients had their surgery moved to a private hospital.
In the three months since the new system was adopted, the percentage of category two patients seen within 90 days had grown from 66 per cent to 76-80 per cent.
Dr Brown said the ACT's approach mirrored the system that had been adopted in NSW.
''If we keep going at that rate, we will have a long wait list down to zero in a couple of years,'' she said.
The Productivity Commission's latest report on government services shows that in 2012-13, almost 9 per cent of ACT patients deferred GP visits due to cost, compared to a national rate of 5.8 per cent.
The ACT also had Australia's lowest GP bulk-billing rate.
The national bulk-billing rate was 82 per cent, but 45 per cent of Canberra general practice patients had to pay a fee.
The territory had the lowest rate of potentially avoidable deaths in Australia, at 71.3 per 100,000 persons.
The national rate of potentially avoidable deaths was 90.1 per 100,000 persons.