COVID-19 impacts Victorian elective surgery waitlists

Recent Victorian Agency for Health Information (VAHI) data shows there are more than 15,000 patients waiting for elective surgery compared to this time last year.

The VAHI statistics released in the December 2020 quarter review health services performance and the data reveals a major reduction in elective surgery waiting times and treatment for patients in all categories.

VAHI said the restrictions put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic have had significant consequences on the number, efficiency, and kind of elective surgery procedures at hospitals.

According to VAHI at the end of the December 2020 quarter there were 65, 621 patients overall on a waiting list in Victoria for elective surgery, compared to 49,326 people in the December 2019 quarter.

An analysis of the VAHI data shows a significant increase of 16,295 patients waiting for elective surgery across all categories in Victoria, with patients on the category three non-urgent waitlist the most impacted.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) said the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions have caused national elective surgery waiting list admissions to decline 9.2% between 2018-19 and 2019-20.

The initial COVID-19 pandemic elective surgery restrictions set by the Australian Government in March last year stipulated only category one and exceptional category two procedures could go ahead, these guidelines were revised a month later in April allowing all category two and important category three procedures.

The VAHI data found in urgent category one, where a patient must be treated within 30 days there has been an increase of 309 patients waiting for elective surgery, in semi-urgent category two, where a patient requires treatment within 90 days, there has been a major increase of 6, 160 patients and in non-urgent category three, where a patient is treated within 12 months, there has been a significant increase of 9,826 patients waiting.

Elective Surgery is essential surgery that can be postponed for a minimum of 24 hours, in Victoria a patient is assessed by a surgeon as needing elective surgery and then placed on a hospital-based waiting list categorised by urgency.

The waiting time is defined between the date the patient was recorded as requiring the elective surgery and the date they were admitted to hospital for the procedure, this does not include days the patient was not ready for surgery.

Patients with life threatening illnesses take priority, a hospital can postpone an elective surgery appointment in this situation, or if emergency services demand becomes unpredictable, the Victorian target is to have seven or less hospital-initiated postponements per 100 scheduled patient admissions.

In the December 2020 quarter the VAHI data shows a slight improvement with 5.71 patient appointments rescheduled per 100 admissions compared to 6 patient postponements per 100 people a year ago.

Despite this statistic, the percentage of patients waiting longer than 365 days for treatment in Victoria increased from 1.26% in the December 2019 quarter to 5.18% in the December 2020 quarter.

Elective surgery patients waiting treatment have suffered during COVID-19, with the median waiting time for all Victorian patients increasing significantly by six days and the percentage of patients receiving treatment dropping 13.63%.

During this time, the My Hospitals data reveals it took 15 more days for 90% of Victorian patients to be admitted for all surgery, with the longest wait being ophthalmology surgery at 32 more days, followed by orthopaedic surgery, general surgery and gynaecology.

The AIHW My Hospitals data shows there were 24,264 less patients admitted by surgical specialty between 2018-19 to 2019-20 in Victoria.

The VAHI website regularly updates elective surgery waiting time statistics in Victoria.