Hospital waiting times
Hospital waiting times in the public system are getting longer largely due to COVID restrictions – but you have other options.
Which treatments have the longest waiting lists?
Of the 25 most common surgeries in Australia during 2021–22, the longest waiting times in public hospitals were for:
Surgery to correct a damaged nose bone: 315 days
Total knee replacement
Replacement of weight-bearing surfaces of the knee: 293 days
Repairing a hole in the eardrum: 259 days
Here's a breakdown of the longest median waiting times for specific treatments in Australia over the past 5 years:
|Cataract extraction||87 days||84 days||98 days||172 days||158 days|
|Cholecystectomy||45 days||45 days||48 days||56 days||53 days|
|Coronary artery bypass graft||17 days||17 days||18 days||18 days||19 days|
|Cystoscopy||24 days||24 days||23 days||26 days||24 days|
|Haemorrhoidectomy||48 days||49 days||57 days||70 days||77 days|
|Hysterectomy||57 days||61 days||63 days||80 days||74 days|
|Inguinal herniorrhaphy||56 days||59 days||67 days||76 days||77 days|
|Myringoplasty||195 days||200 days||214 days||292 days||259 days|
|Myringotomy||66 days||62 days||65 days||76 days||72 days|
|Prostatectomy||46 days||44 days||44 days||54 days||48 days|
|Septoplasty||248 days||241 days||277 days||330 days||315 days|
|Tonsillectomy||121 days||125 days||130 days||253 days||168 days|
|Total hip replacement||119 days||119 days||120 days||179 days||153 days|
|Total knee replacement||198 days||209 days||223 days||308 days||293 days|
|Varicose vein treatment||101 days||108 days||129 days||223 days||208 days|
Public hospital waiting times from state to state
- Public hospital waiting lists in Victoria (25 days) were less than half that of those for Tasmanians (62).
- Public hospital waiting lists in New South Wales were more than a fifth longer (55 days) than public hospital waiting lists in Queensland (36).
- It takes twice as long to get elective surgery in the ACT (43 days) compared to the Northern Territory (30 days), on average.
|State||Median elective surgery wait times (2021–22)|
|Public hospital waiting times in ACT||43 days|
|Public hospital waiting times in NSW||55 days|
|Public hospital waiting times in NT||30 days|
|Public hospital waiting times in QLD||36 days|
|Public hospital waiting times in SA||48 days|
|Public hospital waiting times in TAS||62 days|
|Public hospital waiting times in VIC||25 days|
|Public hospital waiting times in WA||43 days|
How do surgery hospital waiting lists work for public vs private patients?
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 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.
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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