Elective surgery is planned surgery that can be booked in advance as a result of a specialist clinical assessment and the patient being placed on a waiting list.

Impact of COVID-19 on 2019–20 Elective surgery activity

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. 

More information about—

Explore more details on public hospital elective surgery waiting lists can be found via the links at the bottom of the page.

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Additions and removals down due to impacts of COVID-19

Between 2014–15 to 2018–19, admissions from public hospital elective surgery waiting lists increased, on average, by 2.1% per year. However, in 2019–20, the number of admissions from waiting lists was 9.2% lower than 2018–19, due to the cancellation of non-urgent elective surgery in March 2020.

In 2019–20:

  • 837,800 patients were added to public hospital elective surgery waiting lists, and 688,300 patients admitted for surgery from waiting lists
  • 3.8% of admissions from public hospital elective surgery waiting lists (26,300) were reported for people of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander origin who represent 3.0% of the Australian population. 

Median waiting times lower overall

In 2019–20:

  • 50% of patients were admitted for elective surgery within 39 days (the median waiting time)—down from 41 days in 2018–19
  • the proportion of patients who waited longer than 365 days to be admitted was 2.8% in 2019–20—up from 2.1% in the previous year
  • the waiting time for 50% of Indigenous Australians (49 days) was higher than for Other Australians (38 days)
  • of the 25 most common surgeries, Breast lump—excision and/or biopsy had the shortest median waiting time (16 days), and Septoplasty (to fix a deviated nasal septum) had the longest (277 days).

Removals from waiting lists

Between 2014–15 to 2018–19, removals from public hospital elective surgery waiting lists increased, on average, by 2.3% per year. However, in 2019–20, the total removals from elective surgery waiting lists was 8% lower than 2018–19.

In 2019–20:

  • 815,400 patients were removed from public hospital elective surgery waiting lists, down by 8% since 2018–19
  • Most patients (84%) removed from waiting lists were admitted for their awaited procedure
  • 16% were removed from waiting lists for other reasons (for example, the surgery was no longer required, they were treated elsewhere, they were transferred to another hospital’s waiting list, they were unable to be contacted, or they died).

Types of procedures

In 2019–20:

  • General surgery was the most common surgical specialty (21%), followed by Urological surgery (15%)
  • Cystoscopy was the most commonly reported intended surgical procedure with 60,800 patients admitted, followed by Cataract extraction with 60,200 patients admitted.

Where do I find more information?

The latest data on elective surgery waiting times is available for download below.