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Elective Surgery Waiting Times Blowing Out

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Thursday, 9 March 2017

Tags: Elective Surgery, Health, Health Crisis

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