Elective surgery waiting lists will blow out without urgent action
The McKell Institute has developed projections of NSW elective surgery waiting lists using the latest data from the NSW Bureau of Health Information. The analysis finds that elective surgery waiting lists will increase to 245,000 within five years if elective surgery continues to be suspended to provide spare capacity to address COVID-19.
Should NSW return to pre-pandemic levels of elective surgeries performed, the waiting list is projecting to continue to grow and reach 160,000 in the next five years. To return the elective surgery waiting list to pre-pandemic levels of 80,000 within five years, a sustained 7.22 per cent increase in elective surgeries is necessary for the five-year period.
When the elective surgery waiting list began to exceed 80,000 the number of patients not treated within the clinically recommended timeframe began to rise substantially and continued to follow the trend of the waiting list.
- The elective surgery waiting list rose 20 per cent from June 2019 to June 2020.
- 94,807 people were on the waiting list in December 2021, compared to an average of 85,128 throughout 2019.
- If the number of elective surgeries performed returns to pre-pandemic levels, the waiting list will continue to rise, and reach 160,000 within five years.
- In this scenario the number of patients not seen within the clinically recommended timeframe will exceed 30,000 within five years.
- If elective surgeries continue to be suspended at the rate during 2021 and 2022, the waiting list will continue to rise, and reach 245,000 within five years.
- In this scenario the number of patients not seen within the clinically recommended timeframe will exceed 65,000 within five years.
- To return the elective surgery waiting list to pre-pandemic levels within five years, the number of elective surgeries performed must increase by 7.22 per cent.
The outbreak of COVID-19 in Australia from early 2020 sparked significant changes in health policy. Among them was the suspension of elective surgeries to ensure sufficient “staffing and hospital bed capacity” to meet demand caused by COVID-19.
Two years on from the start of the pandemic, and elective surgeries continue to operate at reduced capacity. Waiting lists have risen above pre-COVID-19 levels and health professionals have begun to debate the need to resume elective surgeries.
This McKell Institute Data Brief examines the latest NSW Bureau of Health Information data to produce five-year projections of the elective surgery waiting list under three scenarios:
- The number of elective surgeries performed returns to pre-pandemic levels
- Elective surgeries continue to be suspended as they have been during 2020 and 2021
- The required number of elective surgeries to return to pre-COVID-19 waiting lists within five years
We assume that patient inflows return to pre-pandemic levels with an additional input for latent demand, calculated as the difference between long term inflows and inflows during COVID-19. Latent demand has been added to inflows over the course of 2022.
Patient outflows in scenario one are assumed to be equal to the pre-pandemic average (2018 and 2019). Scenario two assumes outflows are equal to the pandemic outflows in 2020 and 2021 when elective surgeries were suspended.
Scenario three models the necessary patient outflows to reach a stable elective surgery waiting list of 80,000 within five years.
A simple regression analysis was undertaken to estimate the number of patients not seen within the clinically recommended timeframe given an assumed elective surgery waiting list under each of the three scenarios.
About the Mckell Institute
The McKell Institute is an independent, not-for-profit research organisation dedicated to advancing practical policy solutions to contemporary issues. The data briefings reports analyse data sets and apply insights to current public policy debates.
Contact for Media Comment
CEO, McKell Institute
0401 089 932