Herald Sun, Melbourne
By Grant McArthur
Patients in limbo
VICTORIA’S struggling hospitals have suffered a 27 per cent blowout in their waiting lists in just six months.
Almost 11,000 Victorians have been added to public hospitals’ elective surgery waiting lists since the start of the financial year, when health services warned they would not be able to cope on their new budgets.
On December 31, 50,697 people were waiting for surgery – up from 39,843 on June 30. The pressure on the health system is also hitting ambulance response times.
New data reveals it now takes paramedics an average of 19 seconds longer to get to critical or “Code 1” patients than it did a year ago.
Victorian patients endure wait gain
Category 2 patients have to wait almost two minutes longer for an ambulance than in December 2018.
Victoria’s public hospital waiting list is now the worst it has been since Labor won office in 2014.
Opposition health spokeswoman Georgie Crozier said Premier Daniel Andrews’ “savage health cuts” were placing lives at risk.
“Labor’s priorities are all wrong. Daniel Andrews has wasted billions on budget blowouts while patients are languishing in pain without getting the care they need,” she said.
In the months leading up to the 2018 state election, public hospitals undertook almost 56,000 elective surgeries. But the total has slipped, and 47,115 operations were performed in the three months to December 31 last year.
In July last year, worried hospital executives forecast the current situation, telling the Herald Sun they would be forced to cut the number of patients treated and extend waiting lists due to budget cuts. At the time, Health Minister Jenny Mikakos said the state’s 83 public health services had all been handed record funding. But senior hospital sources insist they face shortfalls in the tens of millions of dollars due to increased patient numbers and higher staff wages, as well as cuts to a range of grants.
The latest health data released last Friday on Ambulance Victoria “offloading” times revealed it now takes an average of 23 minutes for a patient to be transferred from an ambulance into an emergency department – three minutes slower than when Labor was elected in 2014. As a result, only 76 per cent of patients are being transferred within the 40-minute benchmark, well below the 90 per cent government target.
Yesterday, Ms Mikakos said elective surgery patients were being seen faster than in any other state, with a median time to treatment of 28 days well below the 41-day national average. But she said hospitals were feeling the brunt of Commonwealth funding cuts, a growing population and an exodus of people from private health insurance.
“Victorians waiting for elective surgery are being seen sooner than anywhere else in Australia despite record demand, while our ambulances continue to arrive to emergencies in near-record time,” she said.
“This is because of our incredible health workforce, but also because our investment in hospitals and ambulances is growing faster than the national average.”
With Victorian hospitals only required to publish waiting times from the date a specialist lists a patient for an operation – rather than when they are first referred by a GP which may be months or years earlier – Australian Medical Association Victorian president Julian Rait has called for increased transparency.
“In any system that aspires to universal health coverage, access to specialist outpatient services is a noted choke point to restrict access to the published waiting list,” he said.