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Public hospital waiting lists getting longer: Auditor-General

Politics

The number of people waiting longer than recommended to see a medical specialist in the Queensland public health system is increasing.

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Outpatient “long waits” spiralled 72 per cent in the three years to July 2020 and the number of “ultra-long waits”, which had been falling, has now started to rise again.

On July 1, 2021, there were 892 patients who had been waiting more than two years for an outpatient appointment with a specialist.

The figures, which reveal that since 2015 waiting lists had eased but have started climbing again since 2017, are contained within an Auditor General’s report tabled on Monday.

The report found that in July 2021, there were 230,120 patients waiting for their first appointment with a specialist, and eight per cent were in category one, which means they need to be seen within 30 days.

According to the report this indicates that most urgent cases are seen within time but challenges remain with seeing non-urgent cases within the clinically recommended times.

The report notes that the growth in demand for specialist services is greater than population growth and that the State’s growing and ageing population and an increased prevalence of chronic diseases, is placing pressure on the public health system.

Since 2015, the Government has ploughed $595 million into addressing ballooning waiting lists under the Specialist Outpatient Strategy.

The auditor’s report notes that almost 80 per cent of the funding was used for additional appointments to slash waiting lists.

“Queensland Health halved long waits in the first three years but increasing demand means the number of long waits for non-urgent cases has increased steadily since 2017.”

And the report cites a shortage of specialists.

“There is a finite ability to provide services in the public health system due to availability of public specialists. For some specialties there is a statewide shortage of clinicians, with both the public and private health sectors competing for scarce resources,” the report says, noting that the pandemic has also impacted supply.

“Since 2017 the number of long waits has increased. Many patients, mostly non-urgent category two and three patients, still wait longer than clinically recommended for their first specialist outpatient appointment.”

The funding did not address the rising demand for services.

According to the report, at July 2021, there were 892 ultra-long wait patients, 57,941 long wait patients and 4030 ear, nose and throat long wait patients.

Long wait is when a patient has waited longer than clinically recommended whilst an ultra-long wait is where a patient has waited more than two years.

Orthopaedics, ophthalmology and gastroenterology specialists have the longest waiting lists.

“Queensland Health needs to address the challenge of increasing demand in its further reform work to create sustainable improvement.”

State Opposition Leader David Crisafulli said despite having seven years to fix the waiting list problem, the issue had gotten worse under the current government.

“This can’t be another auditor-general’s report that gets swept aside,” he said.

“At a time when Queensland Heath is in crisis, every suggestion to improve it must be taken on board.”

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