Latest elective surgery waiting times

NSW, SA, WA & TAS have released their elective surgery waiting times (aka planned surgery) for public patients. 

One of the biggest drivers of Aussies taking up private hospital cover is the health of the public hospital system – specifically planned (elective) surgery waiting times. Hospital cover is more important than ever. 

A key advantage of having private hospital cover is that you can get your planned surgery done in a private hospital with the doctor of your choice as soon as your doctor is ready (it’s usually very speedy).*

Private health insurance is designed to take the planned surgery load off the public system and it does this pretty well. As we wrote last year, 66% of all elective surgeries are performed in private hospitals. Demand for public hospitals is increasing at an average of 4.3% and therefore using private hospital cover is a good way to escape the public backlog (more on that below).

How do planned surgery waiting times work as a public patient?

Planned surgeries in public hospitals as a public patient naturally aren’t as urgent as emergency admissions and are prioritised accordingly (although planned surgeries do have clinically recommended timeframes to operate under). The private system is generally much faster.

NSW surgery waiting times

The Sydney Morning Herald led with: “Record numbers of patients waited too long – some over a year – for elective surgery despite operating theatres working in overdrive…” for its report based on January-to-March figures this year from NSW’s Bureau of Health Information.

COVID has obviously played a huge part in surgery waiting times. It’s not fair to judge the public system too harshly and we should give the public system time before their stats look better. However, it is clear that the stats for now in NSW do look far poorer than usual.

A concerning stat is that “Almost 6000 patients had been waiting longer than clinically recommended for their elective procedures on the last day of 2020, more than five times the number of patients waiting too long at the end of 2019 (1144 people).”

Far worse than what was reported, median waiting times for non-urgent elective surgeries (like knee replacements, hip replacements, cataracts etc.) blew out from 260 days to 295 days. And remember that half the people waited longer than that.

WA surgery waiting times

WA has an alarming percentage of patients who haven’t been treated in public hospitals within clinically recommended times. Figures for May 2021 show 10.5% of Category 1 urgent patients waiting longer than recommended followed by 18.1% of Category 2 semi-urgent and 8.3% of Category 3 non-urgent surgeries.

These are poor figures and they appear to be concentrated in metro areas. You’d expect a heavy investment in WA to address that performance and with numbers like that.

TAS surgery waiting times

Tasmania’s latest figures show a 74-day median waiting time for elective surgery in May 2021, more than double the national average of 39 days.

Disturbingly for residents is that the Category 3 non-urgent surgery increased from an average of 247 days in April 2021 to 263 days in May 2021.

Tasmania’s public hospitals only treat patients within clinically recommended times less than a half of the time (46%). Those are scary stats that need fixing and they are right across the urgency categories (57% for Category 1 urgent surgery, 42% for Category 2 semi urgent surgery and 35% for Category 3 non-urgent surgery).

*Naturally you’ll need to have served your waiting periods and have inclusions on your cover for whichever hospital services your surgery is for.

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