Don’t get too nervous about your surgery… you could be waiting a long time to get to this point. Photo: Nicolas Walker
NSW patients are regularly waiting up to a year or even more just to get in to see a doctor and be put on a waiting list, a massive patient survey has found.
In the first detailed information ever provided about the “waiting list for the waiting list” the figures from the Bureau of Health Information show in some cases more than one in five patients wait longer then six months just to get in to see their doctor.
The survey of more than 18,000 NSW patients found in general public hospitals are delivering excellent quality care to patients, with most feeling they were treated with respect and dignity, and not suffering out-of-pocket costs. However, it also reveals big differences in people’s experience of care and wait times between different hospitals, and depending what condition they are suffering.
The bureau’s chief executive, Jean-Frederic Levesque, said while in some cases there could be reasons for care to vary between hospitals, there was no excuse for some hospitals treating people with less respect than others.
“Orthopaedic and other surgical outpatients were less positive on aspects that should not vary – such as privacy, politeness and courtesy, being informed about medication side effects and receiving clear explanations about their treatment,” he said. “Local Health Districts really should be aiming for the maximum possible result when it comes to respecting patients’ privacy and dignity and things like that”.
The bureau’s report shows that more than a third of patients needing to see an eye specialist waited between four months or a year between booking an appointment and getting to see the doctor, while one in 20 spent more than one year waiting.
Among orthopaedic surgery patients one in 10 said they waited longer than six months to get an appointment. Orthopaedic surgery covers many common surgeries in NSW hospitals such as hip and knee replacements that are often subject to long waits once the specialist sees the patient and recommends the surgery. The median wait time for such non-urgent, or “elective” procedures in NSW is currently 233 days.
The bureau was unable to give detailed information on some areas with notoriously long waits such as ear, nose and throat, allergy and dermatology due to low patient numbers. However, it did show that in some areas, such as cancer and obstetrics, patients were much more likely to see a doctor quickly.
Australian Medical Association NSW president Saxon Smith said hospitals always tried to get those in need of an urgent appointment in as quickly as possible, so those waiting six months or more would not necessarily suffer any medical complications as a result of their wait.
“But it’s also about looking out for what’s best for them in a societal sense, and from an ethical and social standpoint, people feel that is too long,” he said.
Physical infrastructure and funding were needed to meet the increasing demands of an aging population with more chronic diseases, he said, as well as certainty from the federal government about ongoing funding.
But overall Dr Smith said the data showed that across the board public hospitals were delivering excellent patient outcomes.