Nationally, between 2014–15 and 2018–19, the number of admissions for elective surgery increased by 2.1% on average each year.
In 2019–20, there was a reduction in admissions from public hospital elective surgery waiting lists associated with the initial introduction of restrictions that applied nationally. Compared with 2018–19, in 2019–20:
- admissions from elective surgery waiting lists dropped by 9.2%
- additions to public hospital waiting lists declined by 6.2%.
During the peak of the COVID‑19 restrictions in 2019–20, the number of public hospital elective surgeries performed per month decreased from 58,200 in March to 26,500 in April.
In 2020–21, following the decrease in admissions from elective surgery waiting lists in the previous year, admissions increased by 9.6%. This increase was not consistent across all jurisdictions. Many jurisdictions saw the number of admissions in 2020–21 exceed that of 2019–20 with most, but not all, jurisdictions’ admissions exceeding pre-COVID numbers.
However, in 2021–22, which saw a dramatic increase in COVID–19 case numbers and hospitalisations across many parts of Australia, all jurisdictions except Tasmania saw a reduction in elective surgery admissions. Nationally, compared to 2020–21, admissions from elective surgery waiting lists declined by 17% (from 754,600 to 623,000) – with the largest decreases seen in New South Wales (27% reduction; from 251,000 to 182,900) and Western Australia (23% reduction; 92,400 to 71,000).
Urgency of procedure
Compared with 2020–21, in 2021–22:
- people admitted for Category 1 procedures decreased by 2.2%
- people admitted for Category 2 procedures decreased by 17%
- people admitted for Category 3 procedures decreased by 32%.
In January 2022, there was a considerable decline in Category 3 procedures, most likely due to disruptions to the delivery of hospital services as a result of rising COVID case numbers and hospitalisation.
Compared to 2018–19, in 2019–20, the surgical specialties that showed the greatest decrease in admissions were Otolaryngology, head and neck surgery (15%), Ophthalmology surgery (eye and optic nerve surgery) (15%), and Orthopaedic surgery (14%). In 2020–21, most surgical specialties saw an increase in admissions except for Cardiothoracic surgery (4.4% decrease).
However, in 2021–22, there were decreases in admissions from public hospital elective surgery waiting lists across all specialties. The surgical specialties with the greatest decrease in admissions were:
- Otolaryngology, head and neck surgery (24%)
- Orthopaedic surgery (23%)
- Ophthalmology surgery (19%).
Type of procedure
In 2021–22, the number of admissions from public hospital elective surgery waiting lists decreased across all selected intended (indicator) procedures, when compared with 2020–21. The procedures with the greatest decrease were:
- Tonsillectomy (35%)
- Varicose veins treatment (34%)
- Total knee replacement (33%).