Hospital waiting lists not getting better

Article published 19 March 2019

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ACCORDING to an annual report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, in 2017–18 about 874,000 patients joined the public hospital elective surgery waiting lists. This was just under one per cent higher than the previous year.

Over the past five years, the waiting list grew by an average of 2.4 per cent per year. In comparison, Australia’s population averaged an increase of just under 1.6 per cent annually during that period.

This suggests that public hospital waiting lists are growing faster than the population and that public spending on hospitals is therefore inadequate.

In 2017–18, the overall median waiting time for admission for elective surgery was 40 days, up from 38 days the previous year and 36 days in 2013–14. This means that 50 per cent of people waited less than 40 days and the other 50 per cent waited longer.

Cut differently, 10 per cent of people waited longer than 268 days and 1.8 per cent waited longer than a year. While the proportion of people waiting for longer than a year is fairly stable, the number of days that 10 per cent of people have to wait is going up steadily. It was 262 days-or-more five years ago and 268 days-or-more now.

Waiting times for ophthalmology surgery, which includes cataract surgery, are long but fairly stable. Ten per cent of those in need of this type of surgery had to wait 329 days. Five years ago that was 328 days.

Waiting times for ophthalmology surgery are the worst by a country mile in NSW, where 50 per cent of people needing it wait 191 days or longer and 10 per cent 347 days or longer. The Northern Territory performs best, with 50 per cent waiting 61 days or more. Only Victoria, Western Australia and the Northern Territory keep the waiting time for 90 per cent of people needing ophthalmology surgery below 300 days.

These waiting times for an operation to restore a person’s eyesight are nothing short of cruel.

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