Longer wait for elective surgery
Louise Hall Health Reporter, SMH
December 16, 2008
THE number of people waiting for elective surgery in NSW has increased by more than 4500 this year, despite $43.3 million in federal funds to cut waiting lists.
But the State Government withheld figures showing the 8 per cent year-on-year rise in patients waiting for non-urgent surgery when it made the latest quarterly hospital statistics public last month.
The Minister for Health, John Della Bosca, said: "Elective surgery waiting times have decreased substantially, with 91 per cent of patients treated within the recommended time frame of either 30, 90 or 365 days, up 4 per cent on the previous quarter."
However, the full data, made public this month after the Opposition health spokeswoman, Jillian Skinner, submitted a freedom of information request, shows the average waiting time has increased by 5 per cent, to more than 2½ months, since September last year.
It was the first time in 13 years of Labor Government that elective surgery waiting times and data on emergency department performance had not been made publicly available.
A total of 57,707 patients were waiting for booked surgery last September, compared with 53,176 12 months earlier. An additional 13,512 patients had been categorised as "not ready for care", for personal or medical reasons.
Mr Della Bosca said the state's ageing and growing population and more diagnostic testing for conditions such as breast and prostate cancer was the reason for the increasing caseload.
"So we have more people being detected with medical conditions and needing to undergo surgery - which means the overall list gets bigger which is to be expected," he said.
But Ms Skinner said the blow-out was caused by the Government's decision to slash surgeons' operating times, close operating theatres and cut funding for area health services in last month's mini-budget.
"Not only are more patients waiting, those on the list are waiting even longer and waiting lists will blow out even more following this summer's extended surgery shutdown," she said.
Mr Della Bosca said ensuring more people were seen within the recommended benchmarks was the critical factor, not the overall size of the list. Ninety-three per cent of category one patients were admitted for surgery within the recommended 30 days, up 2 per cent on September last year, and 96 per cent of category three patients were admitted within less than 12 months, which was steady, he said.
However, even with an 8 per cent improvement year-on-year, almost 20 per cent of category two patients were still not treated on time.
The situation in the Illawarra is expected to worsen next year, the Government having decided to end elective surgery at Bulli Hospital "in the medium term" despite opposition from doctors and the public. Mr Della Bosca said transferring Bulli's lists to Shellharbour and Wollongong hospitals "was good news for the people of the Illawarra".
The Federal Government announced in January that NSW would receive $43.3 million to cut elective surgery waiting lists. The money started flowing in March.