Elective surgery waiting lists continue to grow as hospitals struggle to keep up with demand
Public hospital waiting lists have added an extra 70,000 people per year since 2013. (ABC News: Liam Cochrane)
Queensland pensioner Gillian Attewell carries a magnifying glass wherever she goes just so she can see.
- About 874,000 people were added to the public hospital elective surgery waiting list in 2017-18
- NSW patients had to wait the longest for surgery, with ACT patients a close second
- Patients needing ear, nose and throat or head and neck surgeries had to wait the longest for surgery
The 77-year-old waited for three years to have a cataract removed from her left eye, and is still waiting for surgery on the right.
“It is really hard to go through life not being able to do what you like to do — I love to read, which is really difficult to do at the moment,” she said.
“It’s just very hard.”
Ms Attewell is one of thousands of people on the public hospital elective surgery waiting list, a list that new figures shows is continuing to grow.
About 874,000 patients were added to the public hospital elective surgery waiting list in 2017-18, an increase of 70,000 people since 2013.
Only 871,000 patients were removed from the list last year, showing hospitals are struggling to keep up with demand for surgery.
The figures in the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) report have also revealed it took, on average, 268 days for 90 per cent of patients to undergo surgery in the last financial year, a 10-day increase on the previous year.
Just half of all patients were operated on within 40 days, up from a 36-day wait in 2013-14.
Indigenous Australians waited longer, on average, than non-Indigenous people for surgery, with half seen within 48 days.
Where you live determines how long you wait
In New South Wales, patients wait the longest — with half being seen within 55 days.
The Australian Capital Territory comes a very close second, with 50 per cent of elective surgery patients being treated in 54 days.
Northern Territory residents had the shortest wait, with half of all patients treated in 23 days.
In a statement, a spokeswoman for Health Minister Greg Hunt said states and territories were responsible for providing elective and emergency department services.
She said the Government was calling on the states and territories to provide more funding to the services, and improve wait times.
“State and territory contribution to public hospitals grew by only 0.1 per cent in 2016-17 compared to the growth in Commonwealth funding of 6.2 per cent,” she said.
“The Commonwealth Government provides significant funding to assist the states to provide these vital services.”
Eye surgery waiting list grows
Queensland pensioner Gillian Attewell is on the elective surgery waiting list seeking eye surgery to remove a cataract. (Supplied: Gillian Attewell)
Patients needing ear, nose and throat or head and neck surgery waited the longest.
It took almost a year, 354 days, for 90 per cent of patients to be treated.
The second longest wait was for eye surgery, with 90 per cent of those patients seen within 329 days.
The shortest wait was for heart surgery, with half of those patients seen in just under three weeks.
For Ms Attewell, the delay in surgery has seen her become increasingly housebound.
She said as her sight rapidly deteriorates, so too does her quality of life.
“It’s been very frustrating, incredibly frustrating,” Ms Attewell said.
“If I lost my hearing that wouldn’t worry me — but my eyesight — I would really suffer.”
Emergency department wait times on the rise
Last year, more than 8 million patients presented to Australian public hospital emergency departments, according to a separate report from the AIHW.
On average, there were 22,000 patients per day presenting at emergency departments, up about 3.5 per cent on the previous year.
Of those patients, only 72 per cent were seen within clinically recommended timeframes, down from 75 per cent in 2013.
In New South Wales, 80 per cent of patients were seen on time.
But in the ACT, less than half of all patients were treated within clinically recommended timeframes.
And while all resuscitation patients were seen immediately, only 76 per cent of so-called “emergency” patients were seen within the recommended timeframe of 10 minutes.