Waiting times for elective surgery slightly up

Nationally, waiting times for elective surgery have slightly risen, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).  However, results vary across the states and territories, and between individual hospitals.

The report, Elective surgery waiting times 2016–17: Australian hospital statistics is the latest to provide national and state-level elective surgery information. The report has been released in combination with hospital-specific data on the AIHW’s MyHospitals website, which shows variation in waiting times for elective surgery between individual hospitals, and allows users to see how their local hospital is performing.

Nationally in 2016-17, about 748,000 patients were admitted from public hospital elective surgery waiting lists. Admissions have risen by roughly 2.0% each year over the last 5 years. After taking into account population increases, there was an average increase of about 0.9% per year in the number of admissions per 1,000 population.

‘Nationally, the median waiting time—that is, the time within which half of all patients were admitted—has tended to increase since 2012–13,’ said AIHW spokesperson Jenny Hargreaves.

It was 36 days in both 2012–13 and 2013–14, 35 days in 2014–15, 37 days in 2015–16, and 38 days in 2016–17.

‘In 2016–17, across the states and territories, the median waiting time ranged from 28 days in the Northern Territory to 54 days in New South Wales,’ Ms Hargreaves said.

The report also shows that the proportion of patients who waited longer than 365 days to be admitted for their procedure generally decreased, down from 2.7% in 2012–13 to 1.7% in 2016–17.

Overall, the most common types of surgeries performed were general surgery (such as surgery on the abdomen, accounting for 22% of all elective surgeries) and orthopaedic surgery (such as knee and hip replacements, accounting for 15%).

This year, for the first time, information on waiting times is available for a much wider range of surgical procedures than previously reported—including arthroscopies, removal of skin lesions, and removal or biopsy of breast lumps.

‘Waiting times also varied depending on the type of surgical procedure. The longest wait was for surgery on a deviated nasal septum, at 209 days. This compares with 13 days for coronary artery bypass surgery,’ Ms Hargreaves said.

The report also shows that waiting times vary between particular population groups. For example, Indigenous Australians continue to wait longer for elective surgery than non-Indigenous Australians, with a median wait of 45 days.

Further information on elective surgery waiting times, including comparisons between public and private health insurance patients, will be published in early 2018.

As part of today’s release, the AIHW has also published new information on Staphylococcus aureus bacteraemia (‘Golden staph’) in Australian hospitals. The report, Staphylococcus aureus bacteraemia in Australian hospitals 2016–17, is available on www.aihw.gov.au, with corresponding hospital-level data published on MyHospitals.

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