Thu. Jun 13th, 2024

‘Breaking point’: How Australia’s hospital crisis is impacting each state and territory

Alex Thompson By Alex Thompson Jun7,2024
Australia’s peak medical body is calling for urgent action and funding to help hospitals mitigate a crisis as wait times for planned surgeries hit record highs.
The Australian Medical Association’s (AMA) latest annual Public Hospital Report Card showed the national median waiting time for planned surgery was 49 days in the 2022-23 financial year.
It’s an increase of nine days on the previous 12 months, and 13 days longer than 10 years ago.
AMA president Professor Stephen Robson said Australia’s public hospitals “are at breaking point”.
“Australians are now waiting almost twice as long on average for planned surgery than they were 20 years ago, which is unacceptable,” Robson said in a statement.

“Urgent action is needed now.”

A line graph showing the median wait time for planned surgery increasing from 2001

The national median wait time for planned surgery was 49 days in the 2022-23 financial year. Source: Supplied / Australian Medical Association

Any form of surgery that is medically necessary, but can be delayed for at least 24 hours, is considered planned surgery – also known as elective surgery.

The report also found the national proportion of patients receiving category two planned surgeries on time — within 90 days — had fallen to the lowest number on record.

Category two surgeries include procedures such as heart valve replacements, congenital cardiac defects, and surgery for fractures that won’t heal on time.

“These surgeries are essential and urgent — they are not elective or cosmetic and every day of waiting can bring serious pain and increased risks to patients,” Robson said.

What is the situation in each state and territory?

NSW: People from NSW are now waiting more than twice as long for planned surgery as they were 20 years ago. At 69 days, NSW has the longest planned surgery wait times out of every state and territory.
Victoria: While Victoria has maintained a relatively short median waiting time for planned surgery in recent years, last year saw a major jump from 25 to 36 days for the median patient on the planned surgery waiting list.
Queensland: Queensland followed national trends with declining performance; patients are waiting almost twice as long for planned surgery than they were 20 years ago. The proportion of category two patients admitted within the recommended time frame has fallen to 70 per cent.

Western Australia: Western Australia’s planned surgery performance continued to decline, with the median waiting time blowing out to 51 days.

South Australia: South Australia’s wait time for planned surgery has increased by 10 days in six years and closely reflects the national average of 49 days.
Tasmania: Tasmania is one of the worst-performing states across all indicators, but there have been slight improvements in category two elective surgery. The median waiting time is now four days longer than the national average.
ACT: The overall median waiting time for planned surgery sits right on the national median, but the percentage of category two planned surgery patients being admitted within the recommended time has fallen from 81 per cent to 49 per cent.
Northern Territory: The Northern Territory is a relatively strong performer regarding planned surgery wait times, with a nation-leading 29-day median wait time.

62 per cent of category two patients are admitted within the recommended time.

How long are patients waiting in emergency departments?

Emergency departments in Australia’s public hospitals have also been struggling.
The national average of ED patients being seen on time across the triage categories of emergency (68 per cent), urgent (58 per cent), semi-urgent (68 per cent), and non-urgent (88 per cent) were at their lowest level in the past 10 years.

Just 56 per cent of patients across all triage categories were treated and left the hospital within four hours or less.

A man in a blue shirt and dark jacket with glasses standing in a hall.

Professor Steve Robson is president of the Australian Medical Association. Source: AAP / Mick Tsikas

Dr Danielle McMullen, vice president of the AMA, described it as a “crisis”.

“It will be no surprise to many that our hospitals are in crisis,” she told reporters.

“The percentage of our patients in Australia in emergency departments being seen on time is the lowest it’s been in 10 years, with more than three in 10 of our sickest patients – people with heart attacks and strokes – not being seen within the recommended wait time.”

Is hospital funding being increased?

A new National Health Reform Agreement (NHRA) — which lays out arrangements for public hospital funding between the federal, state, and territory governments — is set to come into effect in 2025.
The AMA is calling for all health ministers to agree to a $4.12 billion national plan to address the planned surgery backlog while the new NHRA is negotiated.
Dr Sarah Whitelaw said the report reflected what doctors were seeing on the ground every day.
“We are seeing elderly patients sitting in plastic chairs for hours, we are seeing patients getting intravenous fluids and antibiotics in waiting rooms, we are resuscitating people in corridors, we are breaking traumatic, incredibly stressful news to people who have no privacy,” she said.
“We are seeing patients die in emergency departments when we know they should be in a much better environment surrounded by their family and friends.
Whitelaw said patients were receiving worse outcomes as a result of medical professionals being unable to deliver adequate care.
“It’s terrific that the federal government has recognised the depth of the crisis we’re in and committed to that increased NHRA funding which will start in mid-2025,” she said.

“But we can’t wait until then.”

Alex Thompson

By Alex Thompson

Alex is an award-winning journalist with a passion for investigative reporting. With over 15 years of experience in the field, Alex has covered a wide range of topics from politics to entertainment. Known for in-depth research and compelling storytelling, Alex's work has been featured in major news outlets around the world.

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One thought on “‘Breaking point’: How Australia’s hospital crisis is impacting each state and territory”
  1. It’s heartbreaking to see how Australia’s hospitals are struggling with the increasing wait times for planned surgeries. The government needs to take immediate action and allocate more funding to address this crisis before it escalates further. Patients should not have to endure such long wait times for essential surgeries that can significantly impact their health and well-being.

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