The waiting list for elective surgery in NSW has blown out to more than 100,000 patients, with surgeons calling for operations to continue through the Christmas break to clear the backlog.
- NSW Health is not considering cancelling the Christmas shutdown yet
- Hospitals in NSW suspended elective surgeries in March because of coronavirus
- Emergency department visits fell by 18 per cent in the June quarter
The NSW Bureau of Health Information’s quarterly report showed 23,305 less elective surgeries were performed between April and June as compared with the same quarter last year — a fall of 40 per cent.
NSW hospitals suspended all non-urgent elective surgery on March 25 to free up resources to manage a predicted spike in patients with coronavirus.
That caused 16,895 patients to be added to the waiting list, a 20 per cent increase over the second quarter last year, which was the largest jump in at least a decade.
In Victoria, the number of patients on the waiting list ballooned by 40 per cent over the same time period, though at 56,000, it is lower than NSW.
Non-urgent operations started incrementally on April 27 and since July 1, NSW hospitals have been performing surgery at normal levels.
Ear, nose and throat surgeon, Payal Mukherjee, chair of the NSW branch of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, said surgeons were now operating at over 100 per cent capacity to clear the backlog.
“We don’t want routine theatre to be closed down during the holidays,” she said.
“We think we should keep going, especially in country towns where staff numbers are low and the backlog is worse.”
A spokesperson for NSW Health said cancelling the holiday shutdown was not being considered at this stage.
The NSW Government has invested an additional $800 million over two years to boost ICU capacity, medical services and equipment.
The number of patients waiting longer than the clinically recommended time for their operation was 10,563, though most were in the semi-urgent or non-urgent categories.
More than 99 per cent of urgent surgery was done on time.
Semi-urgent patients, for example those being treated for hernias or cataracts, should be admitted within three months.
Non-urgent patients should be admitted within one year and include those needing hip and knee replacements.
Andrew White, head of ophthalmology at Westmead Hospital said about 50 per cent of their cataract surgeries were being outsourced to the private system.
NSW Health has committed $388 million to fast-track elective surgery, which includes sending patients to private hospitals for treatment.
The quarterly report also showed that emergency department visits fell by 18 per cent in the June quarter, and ambulance responses by 13 per cent.