Elective surgery is planned surgery that can be booked in advance as a result of a specialist clinical assessment. Most elective surgeries performed in Australia are undertaken in private hospitals. The information presented in these pages provides an overview of elective surgery provided by public hospitals in Australia following the patient’s placement 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. 

Following the second outbreak of COVID-19 in June 2020, restrictions on elective surgery continued over the 2020–21 period in some jurisdictions.

More information about—

More data on public hospital elective surgery waiting lists can be found via the links at the bottom of the page.

Elective surgery

All data in these visualisations are available for download in the Data & downloads section of the MyHospitals website.

Elective surgery bookmark 1

688,000 patients were admitted from public hospital waiting lists in 2019–20. This was a 6.2% decrease since 2018–19.

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Elective surgery bookmark 2

50% of patients waited at least 39 days for admission from elective surgery waiting lists in 2019–20.

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Elective surgery bookmark 3

Indigenous Australians waited longer for admission from elective surgery waiting lists than Other Australians in 2019–20.

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Overview of elective surgery activity

In 2020–21:

  • 754,600 patients were admitted for surgery from public hospital elective surgery waiting lists.
  • The number of admissions for elective surgery from waiting lists was 9.6% higher than in 2019–20. This increase in admissions was likely due to the greater level of restrictions in place for certain elective surgeries during 2019–20 in response to COVID-19.
  • General surgery was the most common surgical specialty (21%), followed by Urological surgery (15%).
  • There was a 40% increase in the number of patients transferred to another hospital’s waiting list compared to 2019–20.

Waiting times increasing

Following the restrictions put in place in 2019–20 on elective surgery due to COVID-19, which resulted in delays to many types of elective surgery, waiting times for most intended procedures increased between 2019–20 and 2020–21. The greatest increases in median waiting times occurred for Tonsillectomy (123 days), Varicose vein treatment (94 days) and Total knee replacement (85 days).

The proportion of patients waiting more than 365 days for their elective surgery also increased between 2019–20 and 2020–21 overall from 2.8% to 7.6% with the greatest increase for Total knee replacement (11% to 32%) and Septoplasty (18% to 36%).

In 2020–21:

  • 50% of patients were admitted for elective surgery within 48 days (up from 39 days the previous year)
  • the proportion of patients who waited longer than 365 days to be admitted was 7.6% in 2020–21, up from 2.8% in the previous year
  • the median waiting time for Indigenous Australians (57 days) was higher than for Other Australians (48 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 (330 days).

Admissions from waiting lists

  • In 2020–21, three-quarters of all admissions for elective surgery from waiting lists were to Principal referral and Women’s and children’s hospitals and Public acute group A hospitals (41% and 35%, respectively).
  • Between 2019–20 and 2020–21, admissions increased by 9.6% overall, ranging from 15% in Public acute group B to 7.9% in Principal referral and Women’s and children’s hospitals.
  • In 2020–21, 4.1% of admissions from public hospital elective surgery waiting lists were reported for people of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander origin who represent 3.3% of the Australian population.

Where do I find more information?

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