Canberra's "hidden" surgery waiting lists have been revealed, showing a patient could wait up to six and a half years just to be placed on the list.
While the government publishes wait times for elective surgery, doctors say the real wait is often much longer because they do not take into account the time a patient waits from getting a referral to getting an initial appointment with a specialist.
A patient can only be placed on a surgery waiting list once they have seen a specialist.
The previously unpublished data, released to The Canberra Times, shows the most serious ear nose and throat patients could wait as long as three years for their first appointment.
Patients waiting to see a urologist were also among the hardest hit, the longest wait times stretching out to six and a half years.
ACT Health says it wants to make all the data accessible to the public when its new data system is in place.
The Canberra Times requested to see the median wait times, but ACT Health instead provided the 90th percentile and maximum wait times, saying they presented a more accurate picture of wait times.
The data shows as of February 28, there were about 10,000 people waiting for an initial appointment with a specialist.
Urology patients who are in category three face a delay of up to six and a half years before they can have their first appointment with a specialist, while category two patients can still face waits of up to five years.
Children waiting to see a paediatric day surgeon classified as category one - where treatment is recommended within 30 days - can still face delays of almost two years before even being placed on the surgery waiting list.
For children classified as category three the wait can be as long as almost five years.
The Australian Medical Association had called on all governments across the country to release the wait times to see specialists, saying the public is not seeing the true wait for elective surgery.
President Michael Gannon said the "hidden wait list" was growing and waiting times getting longer.
“Elective surgery waiting list data hide the actual times that patients are waiting to be treated in the public hospital system," the AMA said in its most recent report card.
“The time that patients wait - from when they are referred by their general practitioner to actually seeing
a specialist for assessment - is not counted. It is only after patients have seen the specialist that they are
added to the official waiting list.
“This means that the publicly available elective surgery waiting list data actually understate the real time people wait for surgery.
”Some people wait longer for assessment by a specialist than they do for surgery. The AMA is pleased to note the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare is working towards the collection and publication of this data
to provide Australians with a picture of waiting times for elective surgery that corresponds with their actual experience."
An ACT Health spokesman said providing access to timely information for consumers was a priority.
He denied the data was secret or hidden, saying it was made unavailable when a system wide data review was undertaken, following revelations of widespread inaccuracies.
The review recently finished and is due to be released "soon".
"ACT Health is in the process of developing a person-centred strategy that focuses on providing user-friendly data," the spokesman said.
"The directorate is working closely with the Health Care Consumers Association on best practice consumer reporting, and expects to have an approach finalised in the coming months.
"This will include a new approach to publishing wait times to see a specialist.
"In the meantime, ACT Health has been working on enhancing the quality and accessibility of currently available data on its website."
The spokesman said not all people on the wait list to see a specialist will require surgery, because it's not the solution in all cases.
"ACT Health understands the frustration that Canberrans feel when faced with an unexpected long
wait to see a specialist," he said.