Elective surgery wait times longest on record

Andrew Brown |

Wait times for elective surgery at public hospitals have blown out to the longest on record.
Wait times for elective surgery at public hospitals have blown out to the longest on record.

Wait times for elective surgery at public hospitals have blown out to the longest on record, prompting calls for an overhaul by Australia’s peak medical body.

The latest Public Hospital Report Card, released on Friday by the Australian Medical Association, shows the median wait time for elective surgeries was 49 days in 2022/23.

The median wait time for patients increased by nine days compared to 2021/22, while the figure is nearly double the median of 27 days in 2001/02.

Ambulance and medical staff attend to a patient
Patients are waiting longer than ever for elective surgery. (Dean Lewins/AAP PHOTOS)

The nine day increase in the past two years is the largest jump on record, matched only by the period directly affected by COVID-19 at the start of the pandemic.

The medical peak body’s president Steve Robson said urgent action was needed to address the expanded waiting time for elective surgery, ahead of a meeting of health ministers on Friday.

“Australians see now waiting almost twice as long on average for planned surgery than they were 20 years ago, which is unacceptable,” he said.

“Last year, we welcomed the federal government’s announcement of a significant public funding boost to the hospital funding agreement and the decision to replace the 6.5 per cent funding growth cap with a more generous approach.

“The new agreement will still need more investment and agreement by all health ministers. It also doesn’t come into effect until 2025. Urgent action is needed now.”

Australian Medical Association (AMA) President Stephen Robson
Steve Robson says urgent action is needed to address ballooning wait times for elective surgery. (Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS)

The association’s report also found the proportion of patients receiving category two planned surgeries – which includes procedures like heart valve replacements and fracture surgeries – had fallen to their lowest levels.

“These surgeries are essential and urgent, they are not elective or cosmetic, and every day of waiting can bring serious pain and increased risks to patients,” Prof Robson said.

The report also showed further bad news for emergency patients being seen on time.

Nationally, the percentage of patients having their visit to the emergency room completed within four hours was 56 per cent, the lowest level since 2011.

Australia’s growing population has also meant the number of beds available for patients has also fallen.

While 1220 new public hospital beds became available between 2017/18 and 2021/22, the population grew by one million people in the same time period.

Figures showed there was just 11.6 new beds for every 10,000 new Australians since 2017/18, compared to the capacity of 25.3 new beds for every 10,000 just five years ago.

AAP