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Research reveals Australians are waiting an average of 251 days for elective surgery on public hospital lists

A recent survey of Australian patients has revealed a staggering backlog of post-pandemic elective surgeries, causing astronomical wait times for people in need. 

The global pandemic gripped our country and its population like never before, placing considerable strain on our public health system. And while life seems to be getting back into the swing of things, new research has revealed our hospitals are still struggling to catch up to pre-pandemic surgical rates. 

As COVID cases rose with each wave and strain, hospitals and medical staff across the nation were forced to take drastic measures in order to ensure healthcare facilities were sufficiently staffed and able to provide care to those in need. 

Telehealth services were introduced to local communities, medical staff wore PPE gear for months on end, and non-urgent elective surgeries were postponed for prolonged periods of time. 

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Now, as airlines take to the skies once again, and masks disappear from the crowds, some responses to the pandemic seem to be lingering. 

New research from Compare the Market reveals the immense pressure our healthcare system is still facing in the way of the pandemic, with data showing Australians are waiting an average of 251 days for elective surgeries on the public waitlist. 

While elective surgeries are deemed non-life-threatening, and placed behind more serious procedures in terms of priority, they are only categorised in this sense as they can be planned in advance. Many elective surgeries, such as hip replacements, ligament repairs, and spinal fusion surgery for scoliosis, greatly improve a person’s quality of life and alleviate chronic conditions.

Which states have the biggest backlog?

Tallying data from around the country, the survey reveals the specific states with the longest average waitlist period for elective surgeries. 

In third place, with 224 days, sits New South Wales, while Queensland takes the silver medal with an average wait time of 273 days. Victorians, with an average of 281 days, wait longer than other states for elective surgery. 

How can Aussies reduce their wait time?

Compare the Market’s Head of Health Insurance, Lana Hambilton, knows better than anyone the best way people can reduce their waiting periods amidst the record high backlog. She says the only way to ensure your case doesn’t fall behind in the public system, is to avoid it entirely. 

“As a patient in a private hospital, not only can long public waitlists be avoided, there is also the option to choose an available doctor, with potential additional benefits such as having a private recovery room, if that’s available,” says Hambilton on the benefits of private cover. 

But, signing on to a private health cover doesn’t exclude you from waiting in every instance, warns Hambilton. 

“Private hospital cover is great for ensuring that people get the treatment that they need quickly, but if it’s their first time getting private hospital insurance or transferring to a higher level of cover, there will be some waiting periods that should be considered,” Hambilton says. 

“Generally, with any health insurance policy, a 12-month waiting period to claim on treatment for a pre-existing condition or pregnancy-related services applies, with other services involving inpatient hospitalisation requiring a two-month waiting period. 

“This is why it’s important to get private hospital cover as soon as possible so that when the unexpected occurs, the policy benefits can be accessed without having to wait,” says Hambilton. 

The health insurance expert says sometimes, even if people have private hospital insurance but choose to present as private patients through the public system, they may still be subjected to the public waitlists.  

While Australia is often praised for having a progressive and accessible public healthcare system, the recent health insurance price hike amidst these record-high waiting times suggests that we still have plenty to do in terms of improvement. 

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