Elective surgery eluding patients as GPs call for transparent wait lists
GPs are fighting a losing battle trying to have patients admitted to public hospitals for elective surgery, according to experts who have called on the Commonwealth and state governments to come clean about hospital waiting times.
Recent figures released by the COAG Reform Council showed the national waiting time by which 50% of patients underwent elective surgery was 36 days; 90% of patients underwent surgery within 252 days.
But AMA president Dr Steve Hambleton said that figure did not take into account the time patients had to wait between being referred by a GP and seen by a specialist; he estimated “twice as many” patients could be on the “hidden” list as are on the official list.
Dr Hambleton gave the example of one of his own patients who was still waiting to see a specialist after being referred to Royal Brisbane Hospital as a ‘category 3’ urology patient in December, 2006.
“Every GP in the country knows there are two waiting lists, and it’s very hard to advise patients about how long the wait will be,” he said.
“You end up telling patients to just go to the ED because they won’t get anywhere if they see us, they just have to try to get in another way, he said.”
Consumers Health Forum CEO Carol Bennett said patients had a right to know how long they would wait for treatment.
“We need some national uniformity in terms of what we report, and we need to go beyond just what the states and Commonwealth decide they want to tell us,” she said.
Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association (AHHA)executive director Prue Power said “in an ideal world” consumers would be told the waiting times from GP to specialist and on to hospital, but hospitals were often caught in the middle.
The Committee of Presidents of Medical Colleges declined to comment.