Private vs public hospitals wait times
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Public and private health care both require you to go on a waiting list for elective surgery. And because the public health care system is so busy, those waiting times can often be a lot longer than if you go with private. But it often depends on the surgery that you need.
To help you weigh up the pros and cons of each option, we've looked at the surgery waiting lists at public hospitals in 2019.
What are surgery waiting lists at public hospitals?
Public hospitals are busy, so they need to prioritise treatment in order of urgency. Surgery waiting lists are designed to do just that. You only need to go on to a waiting list for elective surgery, not emergency surgery.
If you go through Medicare, elective surgery can be booked in advance once you've received a specialist medical assessment. After the doctor has confirmed that you need surgery, you will be placed on a waiting list.
What is the average wait time on a public hospital waiting list?
According to the 2018-19 stats, the average wait time on a public hospital waiting list is 41 days. This was up from 40 days in the previous year, and up from 35 days in 2014-15. Between 2014-15 and 2018-19, admissions increased by 2.1% on average per year.
Here's a breakdown of the waiting times for each state in Australia:
|State||Median elective surgery wait times (2010-11)||Median elective surgery wait times (2014-15)||Median elective surgery wait times (2018-19|
|ACT||76 days||45 days||48 days|
|NSW||47 days||54 days||56 days|
|NT||33 days||32 days||29 days|
|QLD||28 days||27 days||41 days|
|SA||38 days||37 days||41 days|
|TAS||38 days||55 days||57 days|
|VIC||36 days||29 days||28 days|
|WA||29 days||29 days||40 days|
Which treatments have the longest waitlists?
Of the 25 most common surgeries in 2018-19 in Australia, the longest waiting times were for:
- Septoplasty (surgery to fix a deviated nasal septum): 241 days
- Total knee replacement: 209
- Myringoplasty (repairing a hole in the eardrum): 200 days
Here's a breakdown of the longest median waiting times for specific treatments in Australia over the past 4 years:
|Cataract extraction||93 days||85 days||87 days||84 days|
|Cholecystectomy||42 days||41 days||45 days||45 days|
|Coronary artery bypass graft||13 days||13 days||17 days||17 days|
|Cystoscopy||23 days||24 days||24 days||24 days|
|Haemorrhoidectomy||54 days||49 days||48 days||49 days|
|Hysterectomy||52 days||55 days||57 days||61 days|
|Inguinal herniorrhaphy||52 days||52 days||56 days||59 days|
|Myringoplasty||173 days||170 days||195 days||200 days|
|Myringotomy||57 days||56 days||66 days||62 days|
|Prostatectomy||42 days||41 days||46 days||44 days|
|Septoplasty||209 days||209 days||248 days||241 days|
|Tonsillectomy||120 days||97 days||121 days||125 days|
|Total hip replacement||114 days||110 days||119 days||119 days|
|Total knee replacement||188 days||195 days||198 days||209 days|
|Varicose vein treatment||104 days||90 days||101 days||108 days|
Do private hospitals have waiting lists for elective surgeries?
Yes, but on average, their waiting lists are shorter. Private hospitals also generally give you more choice about the type of care you receive. This can include choosing the doctor that you want and electing a certain type of treatment.
Because waiting times are shorter, you often have more flexibility with when you can go in for surgery as well. You can also receive your own private room and a number of other optional extras to make your stay more comfortable.
Compare private health insurance so you can skip the waiting lists
Can wait times be waived if you're a public patient?
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 to you 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
You can use My Hospitals to find out how long you will likely have to wait for the surgery you need. If you feel that your condition has worsened and that you require treatment sooner, contact your specialist as soon as possible and you may be reassigned to a more urgent category.
Are there waiting lists if I'm a private patient in a public hospital?
Yes. You will still need to serve a waiting period. But keep in mind that if you are being treated as a private patient in a public hospital, it's your private health insurance that is covering you, not Medicare. As a result, you may not have to wait as long as a public patient in a public hospital.
However, public hospitals are generally much busier, so if you want a speedier process, you may want to look at getting treatment in a private hospital.
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