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Elective Surgery Waiting Times Blowing Out

9 March 2017
Rosalie Woodruff MP

Ms WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Madam Speaker, I rise tonight to make an addition 
to some of the comments I made in my response to the Premier's speech 
about the state of the Health department. I made the point that the only 
real deliverable that the Health minister, Michael Ferguson, has been able 
to point to since taking office is the Government's putative elective 
surgery waiting times, which he claims have reduced. If you look below 
his slick spin, you would see this is a fiction. 

The most recent figures by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 
in their Elective Surgery Waiting Times 2015-16 report are terrifying. 
Some of the highlights include: Tasmania has the longest waiting times 
for elective surgery in the country, with half of all patients waiting 
over 72 days for elective surgery in 2015-16, up from 38 days the previous 
year and nearly twice the national average. A staggering one in six 
patients waited more than a year for surgery, climbing from 9.4 per cent 
to 15.5 per cent in one year, again the highest in the country. Only 0.4 
per cent of Queenslanders had to wait more than a year, and that is one in 
every 400 Queenslanders, whereas we have 15.5 in every 100 people in 
Tasmania waiting for more than a year for surgery.

Tasmanians were unfortunate to find themselves in the 10 per cent of 
patients waiting the longest times for surgery in the country. They had 
median wait times of 452 days. Compare this to Western Australia where 
their residents are waiting 161 days, nearly 300 days less than people in 
Tasmania. Tasmanians visiting public hospitals in Tasmania had the 
highest median waiting times in Australia for cardiothoracic surgery, 31 
days. Compare this to the eight days people in Western Australia are 
required to wait, the median wait time. If you are unfortunate in Western 
Australia to be in the 10 per cent of people who are waiting the longest 
for cardiothoracic surgery, that would mean you wait 39 days. In Tasmania, 
if you are in that top 10 per cent, you wait 105 days, increasing a 
person's chance of death while waiting for surgery exponentially.

This is publicly-available information and we have just gone to the 
trouble of compiling them. The median waiting time for coronary artery 
bypass grafts were also the highest in the country at 32 days, compared to 
seven days in Queensland and Western Australian times. The waiting times 
for surgical procedures to address eye problems - ophthalmology - was 
nearly 330 per cent above the national median of 78 days, with Tasmanians 
waiting 256 days last year to get their eye problems fixed.

What about Tasmanians who are needing referral to women's and children's 
hospitals? Again, Tasmania had the highest median waiting times in the 
country in 2015-16 of 71 days. To make these numbers even more terrifying, 
these may be an underestimate. In Tasmania, patients who are transferred 
from the waiting list of one hospital to another hospital, the time they 
wait on the first list is not included in the waiting time that is 
reported in the department's own figures. If you are on a waiting list 
for surgery at the LGH for 200 days before being transferred to the Royal 
Hobart Hospital and then on the waiting list for an additional 100 days, 
you would be recorded for the purpose of statistics as only having had to 
wait 100 days. What a fiction.

The numbers also do not capture the hidden waiting list, where public 
health Tasmanians are waiting to see a specialist after being referred by 
their GP, with the person not going on the waiting list until the 
specialist orders the elective surgery procedure. The gap between the GP 
ordering a person to see a doctor to perform a colonoscopy or other forms 
of surgery, a psychiatrist, that period between the physician ordering 
that appointment and the occurrence of the actual appointment is a hidden 
waiting time. I raised this with the minister at last Estimates, this is 
blowing out astronomically. 

The numbers in Tasmania are absolutely extraordinary for different 
categories. I do not have them here but I will report them at some later 
date because the minister is not listening. This is not a good-news story
. Our public hospitals are facing an absolute funding crisis. It is 
rapidly eroding their capacity to provide essential services to the public
. The deterioration of Tasmania's elective surgery waiting lists is what 
will be Mr Ferguson's legacy unless he acts and acts with strong will and 
money.