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Private vs public hospitals wait times

How do private and public hospitals compare for efficiency and safety?

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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:

StateMedian elective surgery wait times (2010-11)Median elective surgery wait times (2014-15)Median elective surgery wait times (2018-19
ACT76 days45 days48 days
NSW47 days54 days56 days
NT33 days32 days29 days
QLD28 days27 days41 days
SA38 days37 days41 days
TAS38 days55 days57 days
VIC36 days29 days28 days
WA29 days29 days40 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:

State2015-162016-172017-182018-19
Cataract extraction93 days85 days87 days84 days
Cholecystectomy42 days41 days45 days45 days
Coronary artery bypass graft13 days13 days17 days17 days
Cystoscopy23 days24 days24 days24 days
Haemorrhoidectomy54 days49 days48 days49 days
Hysterectomy52 days55 days57 days61 days
Inguinal herniorrhaphy52 days52 days56 days59 days
Myringoplasty173 days170 days195 days200 days
Myringotomy57 days56 days66 days62 days
Prostatectomy42 days41 days46 days44 days
Septoplasty209 days209 days248 days241 days
Tonsillectomy120 days97 days121 days125 days
Total hip replacement114 days110 days119 days119 days
Total knee replacement188 days195 days198 days209 days
Varicose vein treatment104 days90 days101 days108 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

Data indicated here is updated regularly
Name Product Hospital treatments Extras included Hide More Info Button Hide CompareBox Price Per Month
ahm lite flexi bronze plus
    • Ear, nose and throat
    • Joint reconstructions
    • Dental surgery
    • Routine dental ($800 Combined)
    • Physiotherapy
    • Chiropractic
$129
Medibank Bronze Everyday + Top Extras
    • Bone, joint and muscle
    • Eye (not cataracts)
    • Hernia and appendix
    • Ambulance services
    • General dental ($800)
    • Optical($200)
$137.10
Peoplecare Bronze Hospital  & Mid Extras
    • Eye (not cataracts)
    • Pain management
    • Bone, joint & muscle
    • Optical ($200)
    • Pharmacy ($300)
    • Ambulance
$146.70
Suncorp Silver Everyday Hospital Plus + Everyday Extras
    • 32 hospital services
    • Heart and vascular system
    • Emergency ambulance cover
    • $450 Major dental
    • $350 Physiotherapy
    • $200 Optical
$147.88
health.com.au Heart Hospital + Middle Extras 65
    • Rehabilitation
    • Dental surgery
    • Pain management
    • Overall dental ($700)
    • Optical ($200)
    • Natural therapies ($250)
$162.36
Qantas Silver Hospital + Lifestyle Extras
    • Emergency ambulance cover
    • Dental surgery
    • Palliative care
    • General dental ($600)
    • Physiotherapy($350)
    • Chiro & Osteo($300)
$168.15
AAMI Silver Everyday Hospital Plus + Everyday Active Extras
    • 32 hospital services
    • Heart and vascular system
    • Bone, joint and muscle
    • $700 General dental
    • $200 Optical
    • $300 Psychology
$180.84
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Compare up to 4 providers

*Quotes are based on single individual with less than $90,000 income paying $500 excess and living in Sydney.

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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2 Responses

  1. Default Gravatar
    joDecember 12, 2017

    I was told by my Doctor to go on the waiting list for knee reconstruction surgery.

    • Avatarfinder Customer Care
      RenchDecember 19, 2017Staff

      Hi Jo,

      Thanks for your inquiry.

      If you are going to a hospital for elective surgery, some procedures tend to have considerably longer waiting periods than others and you may wish to make plans to have the surgery at a private hospital or to cover the surgery with a private health fund rather than going in as a public patient.

      You may check this page for helpful information and compare your options for Health insurances for joint replacement. All hospital policies apply a two month waiting period to joint replacement and reconstruction claims unless treatment is due to a pre-existing condition, in which case the waiting period is 12 months.

      Hope this helps.

      Best regards,
      Rench

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