Victorian elective surgery hospital waitlist surge

The Federal Government’s decision to pause non-urgent elective surgery has seen a median increase in the number of days Victorians remain on a waitlist.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that all non-urgent category three elective surgery will be temporarily suspended and only category one surgery and some exceptional category two surgery will continue in public and private hospitals to free up resources to combat the coronavirus outbreak.

In Australia, an elective surgery patient is assessed by category: urgent category one, treatable within thirty days, semi-urgent category two, treatable within ninety days, and non-urgent category three treatable within twelve months.

Non-urgent category three and category two elective surgery suspension in Victorian public hospitals, source: ABC News (Pixabay).

A patient’s condition: in category one has the potential to deteriorate quickly and become an emergency, in category two is causing pain although unlikely to become an emergency and in category three is causing pain although unlikely to deteriorate quickly.

Victorian public hospital elective surgery waitlist surge, source: Fernando Zhiminaicela from Pixabay.

An analysis of public hospital waitlist performance data published by The Victorian Agency for Health Information (VAHI) shows the elective surgery suspension has caused a 49-day median increase in non-urgent category three patients, and an 18-day median increase in semi-urgent category two patients waiting for elective surgery in Victoria, in the April to June quarter this year, compared to last year’s quarter.

Median waiting time for semi-urgent (Category 2) and non-urgent (Category 3) patients, in days, source: Victorian Agency for Health Information.

Australian Patients Association (APA) CEO Stephen Mason said non-urgent elective surgery is an unnecessary risk, taking up bed facilities and surgeon’s time during COVID-19 but that when the non-urgent elective surgery ban is removed there will be a big back log of patients waiting.

“It is frustrating for all those people who can’t have their hip replacement, knee replacement, and various other things that are deemed to be non-urgent but affect their quality of life,” Mr Mason said.

“What’s more frustrating is that they don’t know when these will be rescheduled, the hospitals can’t tell them, so there is no communication,” he said.

The VAHI public hospital data reveals, 4.27 per cent non-urgent category three patients, and 16.15 per cent semi-urgent category two patients, were not treated within the recommended time, in the April to June quarter this year, compared to a year ago.

“It’s really been a mixed bag depending on the hospital…we have had a lot of patients saying, I had a letter saying I had a face to face appointment, then I had an SMS saying it would be a phone, so there has been a bit of confusion, it hasn’t gone that smoothly but I imagine things are a bit chaotic in some of the hospitals,” said Mr Mason.

The Prime Minister said due to COVID-19 slowing elective surgery will be reintroduced in three stages, with each jurisdiction to determine according to their situation.

Currently in Victoria, the initial non-urgent elective surgery suspension still applies.

The APA is an independent not-for-profit organisation, which provides information, advocacy, and support to patients.