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News & Trends - MedTech & Diagnostics

Hidden waiting list adding to public health system chaos 

Health Industry Hub | October 10, 2022 |

MedTech News: Demand for outpatient services has steadily increased over the last five years, with a large increase in demand in 2020-21, which can likely be attributed to easings of COVID-19 restrictions in 2020, hospitals addressing the backlog of care resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and the pause on elective surgery and outpatient services, as well as the increase in services being delivered by telehealth.

The Australian Medical Association said Australia’s “hidden waiting list” is a scandal that adds months and sometimes years to the time patients wait for essential surgery. 

AMA President Professor Steve Robson launched a new report Shining a light on the hidden waiting list, which highlighted the unreported time it takes patients to see a specialist in public hospitals. 

“These hidden figures are a scandal that affect hundreds and thousands of patients and impact a health system already in logjam, including general practice that has to deal with the pressure of looking after many of these patients in the meantime,” Professor Robson said.  

“There are no reliable data on the time it takes a patient to see a specialist in a public hospital outpatient clinic after seeing their general practitioner, but we know it can be years. Elective surgery waiting times are reported nationally each year, but these numbers don’t reflect the time someone waits to see the specialist in an outpatient clinic. How can any system properly operate or be properly managed if we don’t know how many patients are waiting for care?” he said.

In Victoria, a patient will wait more than 900 days for an urgent neurosurgery appointment (target 30 days) . In Queensland, a patient will wait more than 150 days for an urgent gastroenterology or rheumatology appointment (target 30 days). Waiting times for ophthalmology, orthopaedic, and plastic/reconstructive appointments are all more than 700 days in Queensland and Victoria (target 365 days).

Professor Robson added “Patients, many of them in pain, aren’t just waiting years for surgery, sometimes they are waiting years just to see a specialist who can get them on the official surgery waiting list. During this wait, they often develop other health issues, such as mental health issues and diabetes, which further affects their quality of life and ends up costing the system more. 

“It’s little wonder our health system isn’t coping when we are not counting the true number of people who desperately need care. It’s like counting emergency waiting room times without counting the hours someone is waiting in an ambulance to get into the waiting room.  

“The only way we can fix our hospital system is by having total transparency on the number of people who are waiting for care – this means counting people from the time the general practitioner refers them to a specialist.  

“How can we possibly know how many doctors, nurses and beds we need if we have inconsistent and unreliable data? We’ve been calling for years for public hospital waiting times to be published.” 

Professor Robson said while the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare was working with jurisdictions to include outpatient waiting data, a national plan was needed now to address the backlog. 

“We need a plan to tackle the backlog of patients because this backlog is adding to the number of people turning up in droves to GP practices and often out of sheer desperation to emergency departments.  

“We need a plan, and we need immediate action to take pressure off our hospitals that are in crisis — including 50-50 funding and removal of the 6.5% cap.”  

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