Key elective surgery targets were again missed in the ACT during the past financial year, as the territory grappled with clinical staffing constraints amid border closures and pent up surgery demand.
While the number of elective surgeries performed had improved on previous years, the ACT's health system still fell short of crucial targets set for the 2020-21 year.
The ACT had aimed to complete more than 16,000 elective surgeries last financial year but there were only 15,324 delivered, ACT Health's annual report for 2020-21 showed.
While the actual number was lower than the target it was a record year for elective surgeries and was higher than the number delivered in the previous year, which was 12,870.
"The record number of elective surgeries delivered in 2020-21 was the result of the ACT government's commitment to recover from the impacts on elective surgery activity due to COVID-19," the annual report said.
"The ACT delivered more elective surgeries for high demand cohorts, including for complex joint procedures and paediatric ear, nose and throat procedures."
The report also said the ability to deliver the target was constrained by the availability of a clinical workforce due to border restrictions and the fact all jurisdictions were working to address elective surgery wait lists.
The number of people waiting longer than clinically recommended for elective surgeries was close to 80 per cent higher than the target. The target was 430 but 773 people at the end of the financial year had waited longer than recommended.
"This result, while worse than target, represented the achievement of a significant reduction from the 1317 patients overdue at the end of the 2019-20 financial year," the report said.
"This number was largely driven by the suspension of non-essential surgeries during the early COVID-19 response."
ACT Health said demand for elective surgery reached record highs in 2020-21, with the waiting list at 5086 by the end of the year.
This was lower than the previous year when 5622 were on the waiting list.
Opposition health spokeswoman Giulia Jones said while the performance data had been affected by the COVID pandemic the waiting times were concerning.
"The outcome for 2020-21 is concerning and I have real worries that elective surgery delays will increase in future years given the backlog of cases," Mrs Jones said.
"Average wait time for elective surgery was another areas where the Australian Medical Association rated the ACT as the worst in the country in its recent report card on public hospitals.
"Coupled with the worst performing emergency department in the country, this is just more evidence that ACT health system is at breaking point."
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During the first COVID lockdown in 2020, elective surgeries were stopped across the country which created a backlog.
Elective surgeries continued in the ACT during the recent lockdown but it's unclear whether wait times were affected. ACT Health was unable to provide data on elective surgeries over the lockdown period before The Canberra Times' publication deadline.
A question time brief given to Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith in October, which was released under freedom of information, said elective surgeries had been disrupted over the lockdown and the government had worked to improve this.
"Some disruption to elective surgery has occurred since June 30 2021 related to COVID-19 related restrictions and staff leave and quarantining that has impacted some elective surgery delivery particularly in August 2021 and September 2021," the brief said.
"This has seen an increase in overdue patients on the elective surgery waitlist. The territory is currently reviewing options to address these issues as practicable."
The ACT has a goal to deliver 60,000 elective surgeries over the next four years. In the territory's 2021-22 budget there was nearly $7 million allocated to the delivery of more elective surgeries.
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