Regional patients need elective surgery support

Elective surgery wait times are far too long for regional patients when compared to their counterparts in the metropolitan cities, AMA Queensland Vice President Dr Nick Yim has told 4CA Radio Cairns. "We need a plan because ultimately we are seeing that people are waiting too long on surgical wait lists. People are in pain and it's affecting their employment and caring for their own families."

Transcript: AMA Queensland Vice President, Dr Nick Yim, 4CA, Mornings with John Mackenzie, Friday 5 April 2024

Subject: Regional health inequities and Surgical Wait List Roundtable

JOHN MACKENZIE:   You will remember well how hard it was at the old Cairns Base Hospital to attract the specialist skills that we needed up here. And why? Because there was a perception: oh, you go way up to Cairns and the equipment’s very basic and you don't have the best specialists to learn from, etc. So fundamentally nobody wanted to come up here and take up their early years in medicine, let alone come up here as specialists. Look at it now, because of the focus of the people that really put so much energy into fundraising for our hospital and also the medical specialists who are very proud now of what they're able to achieve at our hospital. So things have changed dramatically.

But there's a bit of a hint to our south that the reverse is starting to happen. Have a listen to this. The peak medical body has set in motion crisis talks with surgeons to find solutions to exploding elective surgery lists in regional Queensland. Now, following its Ramping Roundtable, AMA Queensland has launched its first Surgical Wait List Roundtable. Doctors have grave fears over the lack of surgical services between the Sunshine Coast and Townsville, and clinicians have been invited to submit expressions of interest by April 23. Isn't it funny? It's sort of gone into reverse to our south. Anyway, we'll get more on this in just a sec. Queensland Health data shows long wait lists in the hospitals in the last quarter of last year. Dr Nick Yim is the Vice President of Australian Medical Association Queensland. Dr Nick Yim, good morning.

DR NICK YIM:   Good morning, John.

JOHN MACKENZIE:   You would have been listening to my intro there but going back, admittedly it's going back 30 years or something, it was very, very hard to get the sort of qualifications we needed up here at our hospital. It's turned around, but there seems to be, for example, down at Townsville, right down to the Sunshine Coast almost a reverse of what we've been enjoying. In fact, some specialists seemingly don't want to be in those more remote hospitals.

DR NICK YIM:   Yeah, absolutely. There are definitely concerns, and a lot of these concerns are voiced from our members, from our doctors, in our regional towns. I'm based in the Wide Bay and Hervey Bay and we are seeing that a lot of patients are having waits for their elective surgeries compared to some of their counterparts in the metropolitan cities. And what we are hearing from the surgeons is there are challenges, and they are seeing that some of their patients are waiting too long in pain, getting delays. I know, for example, some of my patients, they're waiting years to even to get seen by specialists in the Wide Bay area.

JOHN MACKENZIE:   Why? This is the big question indeed, because that's what we had experienced up here. Why don't specialists want to work in - I mean, it's a beautiful place, that Hervey Bay-Wide Bay area. What's happened?

DR NICK YIM:   There's many factors, and this is one of the reasons why we have launched this Surgical Roundtable. With the emergency ramping in 2021, we launched a similar program and we worked with Queensland Government, with the doctors, to develop strategies to implement so we can rectify this situation.

What we’re hearing on the ground, we want to ensure that we can develop a strategy moving forward to implement. Workforce is one issue. We also know that the population is growing. We have seen a lot of people moving from interstate, moving up to the beautiful country towns and beautiful regional towns, and we are seeing a lot of surgeons managing a lot more of the emergency situations, and rightfully so, but then the elective surgery gets a bit backlogged.

JOHN MACKENZIE:   Oh I see. Can I just ask you, you brought up the ramping issue. Going back 30 or more years up here, we were one of the first hospitals to suffer the ramping issue. And we thought, oh, we'll just sort that out, we'll just get more ambulances or more ambulance drivers or whatever else, and tickety boo. But suddenly it spread right across the State and ramping seems to be an issue all over the place now. We still haven't sorted the issue out totally up here in North Queensland. Why is ramping now such a prominent issue, Nick?

DR NICK YIM:   Good question. Ramping isn't just about the ambulances and the emergency department, it's the whole health system. We need to ensure that there is flow through the healthcare system. What I mean by that is we need flow through the emergency department, and then emergency departments need to act quickly and safely discharge patients back into the community or back to their homes or, if they are unwell, they need to flow through the hospital. So that needs in-patient beds. At the same time, when patients are well enough to be discharged from hospital, they need to be able to get home. They need to have access to general practice and also access to their subspecialty services, whether it be a surgeon, gynaecologist, et cetera.

JOHN MACKENZIE:   Now your surgical roundtable, it's happening very soon. Are you confident of getting the answers you're looking for?

DR NICK YIM:   I am confident that we can work with the State Government to implement strategies similar to what we have done with the Ramping Roundtable in 2021. Obviously, some of these changes, it's not going to happen overnight, it's going to be a bit of a plan of attack moving forward. But we need a plan because ultimately we are seeing that people are waiting too long on surgical wait lists. People are in pain and it's affecting their employment and caring for their own families.

JOHN MACKENZIE:   Yeah. That’s been and excellent update, Nick, appreciate this. Thank you.

DR NICK YIM:   No worries. Always a pleasure John.

Related topics