ACT News

Elective surgery waiting lists fall in the ACT

ACT patients are waiting up to 333 days for elective ear, nose and throat surgery, 409 days for elective orthopaedic surgery and 199 days for other surgery including paediatric and oral. But new figures reveal elective surgery waiting lists have improved over the past year.

Latest figures from ACT Health reveal the number of people awaiting elective surgery fell from 4120 in March last year to 3970 this March. Of the 3970 people on the waiting list as of March, about 736 were waiting longer than recommended. In comparison, 922 people waited longer than necessary for elective surgery 12 months earlier. –

The statistics show people who needed surgery within one year were now waiting an average of 147 days for an operation – up from 135 days last March.

Median waiting times for urgent and semi-urgent elective surgery have fallen in the past year. Patients requiring surgery within one month are waiting an average of 10 days – down from an average of 12 days last year – while others requiring surgery within three months are waiting on average of 48 days to reach the operating table, 19 days less than the average wait last year. 

It comes as ACT Health reveals it has changed the way it reports elective surgery waiting times. GPs are now able to see how many patients a surgeon has waiting for surgery as well as the average wait for surgery, depending on urgency. The data also shows the number of people on a surgeon's books who are waiting longer than recommended for surgery. 

ACT Health deputy director-general of strategy and corporate Stephen Goggs said the change had been prompted by feedback from the community and GPs. 

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''We have had some strong feedback from the GPs that says 'this is the information that would be useful as GPs and therefore for the rest of the community,' '' he said. 

Mr Goggs said the amount of elective surgery in the ACT had remained relatively constant but the number of people waiting longer than recommended was improving. 

''It's been going down over the past three years through a range of initiatives including having public patients in private hospitals as required,'' he said. 

''We have a number of hospitals that can be drawn on and we need to be confident that the hospital has the facilties required for the different surgical types. And part of that is about carefully managing the whole waiting list to make sure that, yes, we're treating the people who have been waiting the longest in order to stop them waiting any longer, but we haven't stopped focusing on the other categories. That strategy is paying dividends, as demonstrated by the fact that in every category the numbers are going down.''

Mr Goggs said the increase in the average wait time for people requiring surgery within one year was not a significant change. 

''Out of 365 days, it's a difference of 12. It's a third of a per cent,'' he said.

President of the Australian Medical Association in the ACT Andrew Miller said the new way of reporting the waiting list meant it was now more reliable.

''The idea of linking it back to individual surgeons is, I think, not a bad one, because I think it does give the public an idea as to how long they're likely to be waiting. And whilst none of us should assume just because doctor A and doctor B [have] the same specialty that they necessarily have the same capacity or have the same sub-speciality skills,'' he said.

Dr Miller said the number of people waiting longer than recommended for elective surgery was always going to be a problem.

''The ACT doesn't do brilliantly well there but we certainly do better than we have done. And there has been a concerted effort to bring down our waiting lists, which were exceedingly long,'' he said.

The data shows the average wait for elective ear, nose and throat surgery within one year – category 3 – varies from 173 day to 333 days,.depending on the surgeon. Category 2 patients, who require surgery within three months, are waiting between 20 and 132 days to reach the operating table. The average wait for category 1 or surgery required within 30 days ranged from no wait up to eight days. In one case, a surgeon has as many as 361 patients on their list ready for surgery. 

For orthopaedic surgery, the average wait for category 2 surgery varies from 16 to 236 days. For category 3, it is between 33 and 409 days. For other surgery, including paediatric and oral, wait times for category 2 varied from between five and 97 days, and between 16 and 199 days for category 3. 

Opposition Leader Jeremy Hanson said Canberrans had waited longer than anyone else in the nation for elective surgery for the past 13 years under ACT Labor. ''Often this has caused other clinical complications and unnecessary pain and discomfort,'' he said. .

''During Katy Gallagher’s time as Health Minister, we have witnessed a damning Auditor-General’s report into elective surgery management and the downgrading of numerous patients who required urgent surgery without documented clinical reason.''