Elective surgery access depends on where you are, who you are, and why you need surgery

A new report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) examines how rates of access to elective surgery differ between patient groups.

The report, Elective surgery in Australia: new measures of access, found that people living in remote areas and those in the more disadvantaged socioeconomic groups made use of publicly-funded elective surgery at higher rates than other people.

Conversely, people living in major cities and those in the more advantaged socioeconomic groups had higher rates of privately-funded elective surgery than other people.

Indigenous Australians overall had lower rates of elective surgery (public and private combined); however, they had much higher rates of admissions for publicly-funded elective heart, vascular and eye surgery than other Australians.

The report also examined differences in waiting times between patient groups. For 2004-05, the median waiting time for public hospital elective surgery was 29 days.

'Waiting times varied by the remoteness of the patient's residence, their socioeconomic group and reason for admission,' said Jenny Hargreaves, Head of the Institute's Economics and Health Services Group.

'Overall, people living in very remote areas waited longer for elective surgery than people living in other areas, with a median waiting time of 31 days,' she said.

Patients with a diagnosis of cancer or heart attacks had shorter waiting periods for their surgery than patients with other conditions who were having the same type of surgery.
Overall, patients with cancer diagnoses had median waiting times 15 days shorter than other patients.

'For example, patients with cancer waiting for eye surgery had a median waiting time of 21 days, compared to 83 days for patients with cataracts,' Ms Hargreaves said.

While overall there was no difference between the waiting times between Indigenous Australians and other Australians, a few procedures or surgical specialties did reveal differences in wait times.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians had a shorter median waiting time than other Australians for orthopaedic surgery (27 days compared to 42 days for other patients).

However, within this group, Indigenous Australians had longer waits for hip replacements (116 days compared to 91 days for other Australians), and shorter waits for knee replacements (79 days compared to 134 day for other Australians).


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