'He'll be dead before he's seen': ACT's hidden surgery wait list tollDaniella White
Published: February 9 2018 - 11:00PM
Canberrans with serious conditions are waiting up to five years just to see a specialist, with a "hidden" waiting list masking the true delays for elective surgery.
The ACT government publishes public elective surgery waiting list times but doctors and patients say the delays to first be seen by a specialist and placed on the list are often substantially longer.
While Victoria posts quarterly updates on the waiting time to see a specialist in the public system, the wait times in the ACT remain secret.
The Canberra Times has spoken to a number of patients - including a disability pensioner - who have been forced to cover the full cost of their treatment after being told their only option to be treated within a reasonable time was through the private system.
ACT Health Care Consumer Association CEO Darlene Cox said she heard harrowing stories from patients - particularly women seeking gynaecological services - who were told it would be years before they could see a specialist.
She said while the government had made some ground with recent funding injections, she called for greater transparency around waiting times so consumers were better informed.
"We need to understand how well its functioning," Ms Cox said.
"It's a really hard time for people, you have expectations that you're in the system and something is happening.
"If there are delays your symptoms are still there, it's a very trying time and something that's usually beyond the scope of what a GP can deal with.
"The other thing is, in that time your condition could deteriorate.
"So by helping us understand how the system works, we'll feel less anxious about how the system works."
Canberra GP Thinus Janse van Rensburg said he had elderly patients who would be dead before a specialist saw them based on the waiting times given.
He said patients with enlarged prostates that were not deemed to be cancerous were currently waiting years to see a specialist, while people needing to see a plastic surgeon for confirmed skin cancers could be facing delays of many months.
He said patients needing to see a urologist could wait years and children needing tonsils removed facing similar delays.
"And for people with cataracts there is no public options here at all and we have to send them privately," Dr Janse van Rensburg said.
Australian Medical Association ACT president Steve Robson said the time it took to see a specialist was a hidden waiting list.
"In my experience in my own gynecological clinics it causes a lot of frustration," he said.
"We don't have any data but anecdotally the delays can be very long.
"There's definitely a hidden waiting list."
Dr Robson said it also caused issues around efficiency in the specialist clinics, with high rates of cancellations and missed appointments often because people sought other options while waiting or lost track of appointments.
An ACT Health spokesman could not provide current waiting times to see specialists in the ACT.
He said ACT health was looking at providing additional funding to address elective surgery wait times, having made good inroads in recent years.
He said it was also looking at ways to better manage patients before their referral for surgical review.
The spokesman said there were workforce issues in the attraction and retention of surgeons and anaesthetists in the public sector which affected waiting times.
"This is most notable in the specialties where wait times are longer, such as [ears, nose and throat specialists]. We are currently developing a campaign to attract more specialists to the ACT," he said.
"ACT Health is developing and implementing specific strategies to improve on all areas where patients are waiting longer than the clinically recommended time for treatment."
The spokesman said the strategies included using alternative workforce options to alleviate pressure, reviewing the current model of care for areas of high or increasing demand like ophthalmology and creating additional sessions for urology specialists.
This story was found at: http://www.canberratimes.com.au/act-news/hell-be-dead-before-hes-seen-acts-hidden-surgery-wait-list-toll-20180208-h0vtm9.html