Australia’s surgery wait times explode
Exclusive: Hospital waiting lists have skyrocketed by up to 40 per cent as a result of the COVID-19 surgery ban.
A News Corp investigation has found there were more than 260,000 people waiting for elective surgery in Australia's public hospitals at the height of the pandemic in June.
And those needing cataract surgery, hip and knee replacements and tonsillectomies face some of the longest waits.
A further 280,000 surgeries were deferred in the private sector due to COVID, according to industry analyst Andrew Goodsall.
And he predicts it will take almost two years to address the pre-pandemic backlog.
The crisis comes as a Breast Cancer Network of Australia (BCNA) survey has found one in eight women had their breast cancer surgery delayed by the pandemic and four in 10 can't get a breast reconstruction.
A further one in eight have missed out on being able to take part in a clinical trial of potentially life saving new treatments as a result of COVID-19.
BCNA CEO Kirsten Pilatti said she feared that because breast reconstruction is an eight-hour surgery it was being given less priority than other surgeries that use operating theatres for only an hour or so.
State and territory governments need to make more funding available for elective surgery to deal with the surgical backlog and consider contracting work to private hospitals, she said.
Adding further pressure to public hospital waiting lists is the fact that tens of thousands of people dumped their private health cover.
Cancer specialists are warning there is a backlog of undiagnosed cancer cases about to hit the health system, given people put off going to the doctor during COVID.
There was a 37 per cent drop in the number of breast cancer diagnoses and 145,000 fewer screening mammograms conducted in the first six months of this year.
Waiting lists were already at record highs in April when state governments imposed surgery bans to free up public hospital beds to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Private Healthcare Australia chief Dr Rachel David said private hospitals were working over time to clear their backlog.
"For joint replacements in June in states outside Victoria surgery was back to 124 per cent of what's normal for that month as the surgeons drove extra cases to catch up and put the postponed cases back on," she said.
"A private hospital doesn't have restrictions on the hours that it opens operating theatres, as opposed to public hospitals, so they can work, overnight, and on weekends, if they choose to."
The NSW government has allocated $388 million for elective surgery catch up, Queensland has pledged $250 million and the ACT $30 million to tackle the backlog in elective surgery.
An Australian Medical Association public hospital report card found even before COVID hospital waiting lists were at their highest levels since 2001-02.
In 2018-19 more patients were added to the public hospital elective surgery waitlist (893,031) than were admitted for their surgery (758,136).
"Waiting times will only get worse with the backlog of cancelled surgeries and delayed diagnoses during the pandemic," he said.
Melbourne mum Julie Rae has been on the waiting list for breast reconstruction surgery since August 2019.
She had a single mastectomy in January 2019, followed by six months of chemotherapy but then discovered she carried a BRCA2 gene mutation so needed to have her remaining breast removed within 90 days.
Ms Rae has finally been given a surgery date for next week, 13 months after she was put on the waiting list.
"I feel like I'm living with a bit of a ticking time bomb with my breast knowing that I had that breast there that could get cancer at any time," she said
"This is a point where the government needs to step in and clear some of those waiting lists, because they have just grown exponentially over through the COVID period," she said.
Originally published as Australia's surgery wait times explode