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AMA urges immediate action to address elective surgery backlog crisis

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The number of individuals waiting for elective surgery in Australia is expected to reach over 500,000 by June 30th if no action is taken by the government.

The number of people waiting for elective surgery has ballooned across Australia and is expected to reach more than 500,000 by 30 June this year if no action is taken by governments.

Australian Medical Association President Professor Steve Robson said the AMA’s latest report: Addressing the elective surgery backlog shows a system under enormous pressure and struggling to meet demand.

“Recently state premiers have talked about the dire state of the health system and the need for urgent action through National Cabinet — this report highlights a key part of the system that’s struggling,” Professor Robson said.

“Our analysis shows hospitals can’t meet demand or the recommended timeframes for surgeries and it’s only going to get worse without intervention,” Professor Robson said.

“There’s currently an estimated elective surgery backlog of 306,281 patients nationally and this will grow to more than 500,000 by the end of the financial year if something isn’t done.”

Professor Robson said Australia needs a national plan now to address the growing and increasingly critical backlog of elective surgeries, with an immediate injection of funds required.

“This plan needs to be funded by both states and territories and the federal government and backed by long-term funding commitments that deliver permanent expanded workforce and increased capacity to deliver services in our public hospital system.”

The AMA’s analysis shows Victoria makes up the largest percentage of the backlog (134,950 patients, or 44 per cent of the backlog) together with New South Wales (77,845 patients, or 25 per cent of the backlog).

Queensland and Western Australia account for around 10 per cent of the backlog each.

Hospitals were struggling to meet community demand even before the COVID-19 pandemic and the pandemic had a significant impact on the number of elective surgeries performed in the last few years.

Professor Robson said most of the backlog consisted of people who haven’t been added to the waiting list and were likely waiting for an outpatient appointment with a specialist or had simply given up.

The AMA is calling for a new funding agreement between the state and territories and the Commonwealth that includes an upfront advance payment provided by the Commonwealth to support state and territory governments to expand their capacity (including workforce) to address the elective surgery backlog.

“This should reduce the backlog of hospital outpatient appointments (the hidden waiting list) by providing funding to state and territory governments or directly to health services to assist in expanding the number of public outpatient appointments​,” Professor Robson said.

“We also need to see data on waiting lists (including the hidden waiting list) reported more regularly and transparently across all jurisdictions to ensure the health system can be appropriately managed and patients are receiving the right care at the right time. This isn’t happening now.”

The AMA continues to campaign through its Clear the Hospital Logjam campaign for the existing funding agreement (which ends in 2025) to be replaced with one that includes 50-50 funding and scrapping the 6.5 per cent cap on funding growth with state and territory governments reinvesting the five per cent of ‘freed-up’ funds to improve performance capacity. ​

Professor Robson urged Australians to write to the AMA at www.hospitallogjam.com.au to share their stories about waiting for elective surgery.

Media release from the Australian Medical AssociationNote: Content has been edited for style and length.

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