Longer wait for pub­lic pa­tients

The West Australian - - NEWS - Cathy O’Leary Med­i­cal Ed­i­tor

West Aus­tralians wait on av­er­age eight months longer to see a spe­cial­ist for surgery in the pub­lic hos­pi­tal sys­tem com­pared with those who go pri­vate, new fig­ures re­veal.

The anal­y­sis by WA’s big­gest health in­surer HBF shows the big­gest de­lay is not in the time peo­ple spend on the pub­lic elec­tive surgery wait­ing list but the time it takes to be as­sessed — the so-called “wait­ing to wait” list.

The re­port draws on gov­ern­ment fig­ures and newly ob­tained pri­vate hos­pi­tal data from Ram­say Health Care, which sur­veyed 50 spe­cial­ists across WA, and St John of God Health Care, based on more than 48,000 hos­pi­tal ad­mis­sions.

It shows pa­tients on the pub­lic elec­tive surgery list wait an av­er­age of 34 days for their surgery, sim­i­lar to the time in pri­vate hospi­tals where the wait is two to four weeks from the time pa­tients are booked.

But while pri­vate pa­tients wait only two to three weeks from the date of their re­fer­ral to see a spe­cial­ist, pub­lic pa­tients wait on av­er­age al­most nine months.

At the end of last year, al­most 80,000 peo­ple were wait­ing for their first ap­point­ment with a spe­cial­ist in pub­lic hospi­tals.

HBF said it was the first pic­ture of to­tal wait­ing times — from the time pa­tients first see their GP about a com­plaint to the time they have their op­er­a­tion.

Chief ex­ec­u­tive John Van Der Wie­len said WA’s pub­lic health sys­tem’s emer­gency ser­vices worked well and its in­fra­struc­ture was world-class.

“While it’s no se­cret the main ad­van­tage of pri­vate health care is the abil­ity to choose a sur­geon and to see them rel­a­tively quickly, cur­rent re­port­ing makes it un­clear just how much more quickly,” he said.

As more peo­ple dropped their pri­vate cover be­cause they could not af­ford it, greater pres­sure was put on the pub­lic sys­tem, Mr Van Der Wie­len said.

Health Min­is­ter Roger Cook said the wait times for out­pa­tient ap­point­ments used by HBF re­lated only to the me­dian, across se­lect clin­ics and hospi­tals.

Mr Cook said the pri­vate sys­tem did not pro­vide the range and com­plex­ity of ser­vices de­liv­ered by the pub­lic sys­tem, such as emer­gency care.

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