A tenth of all public oncology patients are waiting longer than clinically recommended for an urgent initial appointment and the situation is even worse for other specialties, new data shows.
The figures are from a single state, Queensland, but shed light on the nationwide problem of “hidden waiting lists”, which add months or sometimes years to the official wait times for elective surgery, says the AMA.
Published by Queensland Health, the data shows 90.2% of Category 1 oncology patients – the most urgent on the waiting list – received a public outpatient appointment within the required 30 days as of July this year.
Category 2 patients should be seen within 90 days of placement on the list, but 8.2% were not seen within that time.
Meanwhile, 10% of patients in Category 3 waited longer than 251 days for their first appointment, according to the figures.
“We have to fix this,” said AMA president Professor Steve Robson.
“In a situation where Australia is recovering from the COVID pandemic, it’s still going on, our hospitals are in logjam, and we’re facing unprecedented pressures. We are in a situation where patients are waiting and deteriorating.”
He added: “They’re either going back to their general practitioners which is making it more and more difficult to get GP appointments and placing stress on general practitioners around the country or arriving to seek more urgent care as things get worse in an emergency department.”
The AMA noted that while elective surgery waiting times were reported nationally each year by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, information on outpatient appointment waiting times was scarce.
While some jurisdictions individually reported this data, the quantity and quality of publicly available information varied significantly between states and territories, with some states not reporting on it at all.
This is why it is referred to as the ‘hidden’ waiting list, the AMA said.
Nevertheless, state-wide data published by the Victorian Agency for Health Information revealed the issue of prolonged waits for specialist appointments was not restricted to Queensland.
Across all specialties, this showed some 18% of patients were waiting longer than 30 days for an urgent appointment between April and June 2022, while a tenth of urgent oncology patients waited longer than 29 days.
For non-urgent appointments in oncology, the median wait-time was 41 days. The bottom 10% waited beyond 17.5 weeks.