Consistent definitions for elective surgery urgency categories released in new report

In late 2011, Australian Health Ministers asked the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare to work with the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons to provide advice on how to improve the consistency of urgency categorisation for elective surgery across Australia.

A package of measures that will produce greater consistency for elective surgery urgency categories in hospitals has been published in a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) and the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons. Health Ministers have agreed to progress implementation of the report's recommendations through a process involving all states and territories.

Access to elective surgery has been the subject of community discussion for many years, and is measured in national performance reporting for hospitals.

'Apparent inconsistencies in elective surgery urgency categories among the states and territories has meant that the AIHW has not reported information by clinical urgency categories for many years,' said AIHW spokesperson Jenny Hargreaves.

The development of the national definitions resulted in a package of six integrated components proposed for adoption, and presented in the report National definitions for elective surgery urgency categories: proposal for the Standing Council on Health.

They include: simplified, time-based urgency category definitions, 'treat in turn' as a principle for elective surgery management and clarified approaches for patients who are not ready for surgery, because of clinical or personal reasons.

'This report is a step closer to nationally consistent elective surgery urgency categorisation and more equitable outcomes for patients,' said President of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons Associate Professor Michael Hollands.

'It is hoped that consistency of urgency categorisation will be quickly achieved by adopting this package, as part of the overall management of elective surgery provision by hospitals, local hospital networks, states and territories and nationally.'

The report was informed by extensive advice and inputs from representatives of the Australian Government, state and territory health authorities, surgical speciality and other clinical stakeholder groups, and health consumer groups.

The AIHW is a major national agency set up by the Australian Government to provide reliable, regular and relevant information and statistics on Australia's health and welfare.

Canberra, 31 July 2013

Further information: Jenny Hargreaves, AIHW, tel. (02) 6244 1121, mob. 0407 012 520

Associate Professor Michael Hollands, President Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (contact Bridget Hooper (03) 9276 7430)