Elective surgery access

How long patients wait to for admission from elective surgery waiting lists is a measure of accessibility of elective surgery.

Waiting times measure the amount of time elapsed from a patient being ready for surgery to their admission for their procedure.

Access to elective surgery is affected by demand for elective surgery, the number of surgeons available, demographics of the patient, and how urgently the surgery is required.

This section presents waiting time information for 2019–20 and trends in waiting times between 2015–16 and 2019–20.

Additional information on waiting times for elective surgery by Indigenous status, socioeconomic status and remoteness area are presented from the admitted patient care data (NHMD elective surgery cluster), 2018–19.

Impact of COVID-19 on waiting times for elective surgery

Following a decision by National Cabinet, in the context of ensuring the health system maintained adequate capacity to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, restrictions were applied to selected elective surgeries from 26 March 2020.

Under these restrictions, only Category 1 and exceptional Category 2 procedures could be undertaken. These restrictions were eased (but not fully lifted) from 29 April 2020, allowing all Category 2 and some important Category 3 procedures to be performed. 

These restrictions led to an overall decrease in admissions from elective surgery waiting lists of 9.2% between 2018–19 and 2019–20 and impacted waiting times for elective surgery.

Between 2015–16 and 2018–19 the waiting time of 50% of patients increased from 38 days to 41 days  then decreased to 39 days in 2019–20.

The overall increase in the waiting time of 90% of patients increased 3 days from 2018–19 to 2019–20, to compared to an 11 day increase between 2017–18 and 2018–19.