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Hospital waiting times

Hospital waiting times in the public system are getting longer largely due to COVID restrictions – but you have other options.

What you need to know

  • Hospital waiting times for elective surgery are longer in the public system compared to private.
  • The average public hospital waiting time was 43 days during 2022–23.
  • Hospital waiting times for many procedures increased between 2021–22 and 2022-23.

Which treatments have the longest waiting lists?

Of the 15 most common surgeries in Australia during 2022–23, the longest waiting times in public hospitals were for:

Ear

Total knee replacement

308 days

hip replacement

Total hip replacement

175 days

Tonsillectomy

Tonsillectomy

174 days

Here's a breakdown of the longest median waiting times for specific treatments in Australia over the past 5 years:

Treatment2018–192019–202020–212021–222022–23
Cataract extraction84 days98 days172 days158 days133 days
Cystoscopy24 days23 days26 days24 days26 days
Skin lesion25 days24 days25 days23 days26 days
Hysteroscopy27 days28 days29 days27 days28 days
Cholecystectomy45 days48 days56 days53 days59 days
Total knee replacement209 days223 days308 days293 days308 days
Inguinal herniorrhaphy59 days67 days76 days77 days82 days
Tonsillectomy125 days130 days253 days168 days174 days
Total hip replacement119 days120 days179 days153 days175 days
Breast lump16 days16 days16 days16 days17 days
Herniorrhaphy69 days78 days92 days97 days108 days
Prostate biopsy29 days28 days29 days28 days30 days
Laparoscopy57 days64 days79 days78 days82 days
Arthroscopy75 days76 days89 days85 days86 days
Carpal tunnel release62 days70 days80 days82 days83 days

Public hospital waiting times from state to state

  • Public hospital waiting lists in New South Wales were the longest (69 days).
  • Public hospital waiting times in NT (29 days) were the shortest.
  • Public hospital waiting lists in NSW were almost double the length of Victoria.
StateDays waited at the 50th percentile
Public hospital waiting times in ACT49 days
Public hospital waiting times in NSW69 days
Public hospital waiting times in NT29 days
Public hospital waiting times in QLD40 days
Public hospital waiting times in SA49 days
Public hospital waiting times in TAS53 days
Public hospital waiting times in VIC36 days
Public hospital waiting times in WA51 days

How do surgery hospital waiting lists work for public vs private patients?

Public

Public hospitals

Public hospitals are often very busy, so they need to prioritise treatment in order of urgency.

You only need to go onto a waiting list for elective surgery (a procedure that isn't considered an emergency) such as cataract surgery or hip replacement.

If you choose to go through Medicare, you can access free or low-cost hospital care. Your elective surgery can be booked once you've received a specialist medical assessment. After the doctor has confirmed that you need surgery, you'll be placed on a waiting list.

Private

Private hospitals

Private hospitals do have waiting lists for elective surgeries, but they're shorter than public waiting lists, on average. Private hospitals also allow you to choose the doctor you want and offer more flexibility on when you're treated, plus you can often get your own room.

The catch? Unlike Medicare, it's not free. You'll need a hospital insurance policy and if it's a pre-existing condition you want treatment for, like a bad knee, you'll need to have a policy for 12 months before you're covered.

Can wait times be waived if I'm a public patient?

Sometimes, wait times can be waived if you're a public patient, but only if your condition worsens and is considered an emergency. In most cases, the specialist will decide how urgently your procedure is needed and assign you to a specific urgency category. These are:

  • Category 1: Surgery recommended within 30 days.
  • Category 2: Surgery recommended within 90 days.
  • Category 3: Surgery recommended within 365 days.
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What category are you?
You can use My Hospitals to find out how long you will likely have to wait for the surgery you need. If you feel your condition has worsened, contact your specialist and you may be reassigned to a more urgent category.

How can health insurance help me to meet the cost of a private treatment?

Once you've served the waiting periods (2 months for most conditions and 12 months for pre-existing conditions), your private health insurance policy will pay for 25% of the MBS fees associated with your procedure and Medicare will pay for the other 75%.

You may still have out of pocket expenses because doctors and surgeons can charge more than the MBS fee. For many people though, the price is worth it because you can get treated sooner.

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