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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 48 days during 2020–21.
  • Hospital waiting times for most procedures increased between 2019–20 and 2020–21 due to COVID-19.

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 extraction87 days84 days98 days172 days158 days
Cholecystectomy45 days45 days48 days56 days53 days
Coronary artery bypass graft17 days17 days18 days18 days19 days
Cystoscopy24 days24 days23 days26 days24 days
Haemorrhoidectomy48 days49 days57 days70 days77 days
Hysterectomy57 days61 days63 days80 days74 days
Inguinal herniorrhaphy56 days59 days67 days76 days77 days
Myringoplasty195 days200 days214 days292 days259 days
Myringotomy66 days62 days65 days76 days72 days
Prostatectomy46 days44 days44 days54 days48 days
Septoplasty248 days241 days277 days330 days315 days
Tonsillectomy121 days125 days130 days253 days168 days
Total hip replacement119 days119 days120 days179 days153 days
Total knee replacement198 days209 days223 days308 days293 days
Varicose vein treatment101 days108 days129 days223 days208 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.
StateMedian elective surgery wait times (2021–22)
Public hospital waiting times in ACT43 days
Public hospital waiting times in NSW55 days
Public hospital waiting times in NT30 days
Public hospital waiting times in QLD36 days
Public hospital waiting times in SA48 days
Public hospital waiting times in TAS62 days
Public hospital waiting times in VIC25 days
Public hospital waiting times in WA43 days

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


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 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.
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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