Elective surgery backlog causing long waiting times

Public sector elective surgery waiting times are at the highest level in 20 years despite an increase in surgeries performed in the past year.

The number of patients undergoing elective (non-emergency) surgery in Australia’s public hospitals increased by 18% from 2021–22 to 2022–23 but many patients are still facing long wait times, according to data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

Elective surgery waiting times were at the highest level in 20 years during 2022–23 as public hospitals worked to catch up following pandemic-related delays that arose due to disruptions in the health system.

The AIHW’s MyHospitals platform has released information on public hospital elective surgery waiting times and emergency department care in 2022–23 with national, state and territory, local hospital network and hospital-specific data.

Nationally, there were 735,500 admissions to hospital from public elective surgery waiting lists in 2022–23, up from 623,000 admissions in 2021–22, but still lower than before the COVID-19 pandemic (758,000 admissions in 2018–19).

Public hospitals made concerted efforts during 2020–21 and 2022–23 to work through procedures earlier delayed when non-urgent surgeries were suspended. But because of these earlier delays, overall waiting times for people admitted for care have increased,” said AIHW spokesperson Clara Jellie.

The data shows that half (50%) of all patients admitted from a public elective surgery waiting list were admitted for their procedure within 49 days (up from 40 the previous year and similar to 48 days in 2020–21).

The proportion of patients who waited longer than 365 days to be admitted was 9.6%, up from 2.1% pre-pandemic (2018–19).

The good news is that while overall waiting times have increased, the majority of patients in the most urgent category (admission recommended within 30 days) continue to be seen on time. In 2022–23, one-third (33%) of all patients admitted for care from a public hospital elective surgery waiting list were assigned to the most urgent category.

Emergency department care 2022–23

New information on emergency department care shows there were 8.80 million presentations in 2022–23, a small increase from 8.79 million in 2021–22.

“In the five years prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, presentations to public hospital emergency departments steadily increased by an average of 3.2% per year, however, in more recent years the numbers have fluctuated and increased at an annual average annual rate of 1.3% over the most recent five years,” Ms Jellie said.

In 2022–23, 65% of patients triaged as urgent were seen on time, down from 67% in 2021-22.

Three in 10 (29%) patients seen in the emergency department were admitted to hospital for further care.

Australia’s hospitals at a glance which provides an overview of the information available on MyHospitals.

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