Media release

Patients waiting too long for elective surgery

The longer a patient waits for elective surgery, the more likely their condition is to deteriorate, AMA Queensland President Dr Maria Boulton has told ABC Brisbane. "The fear is that those patients will deteriorate in their health before they have the opportunity to have that surgery. And once they deteriorate, the surgery does become a little bit harder and the patient may not recover as quickly."

Transcript: AMA Queensland President, Dr Maria Boulton, ABC Brisbane, Breakfast with Loretta Ryan and Joel Spreadborough, Friday 5 April 2024

Subject: Surgical Wait List Roundtable

LORETTA RYAN:   Patients in regional and rural Queensland are facing alarming wait times for elective surgery.

JOEL SPREADBOROUGH:   In response, the Australian Medical Association Queensland has launched its first Surgical Wait List Roundtable. So what is that all about? Dr Maria Boulton, GP and President of AMA Queensland, good morning to you. What is this Roundtable? Why is this necessary?

DR MARIA BOULTON:   Good morning, Joel and Loretta. We launched a similar Roundtable when it came to ambulance ramping. We launched our Ramping Roundtable a couple of years ago, and the result was very practical and economical recommendations for the government to ease ramping.

And we thought, given the concerns that our members are having over elective surgical wait lists, particularly in rural and regional areas, it would be a good idea to convene a Surgical Wait List Roundtable to provide recommendations for the government to alleviate the situation in rural and regional Queensland.

The fact of the matter is that we have patients in those areas that are waiting far longer than people in the South-East corner for their elective surgery. We know that elective surgery is not optional. We know that these people are actually in pain and have medical conditions that need to have surgery for them to keep going on with their usual daily lives.

LORETTA RYAN:   So therefore, you've spoken about these things at the roundtables and given recommendations, but then they they've fallen on deaf ears, have they? Nothing's been done.

DR MARIA BOULTON:   No. The Surgical Wait List Roundtable is about to be convened, and we're calling for expressions of interest from doctors, especially those in regional and rural areas. We expect that the work will be done over the next six months, and we'll be releasing the recommendations beyond that.

With the Ramping Roundtable, most of the recommendations have been funded. But, for example, when it comes to the new hospital beds, there is a time lag. We know that the funding is there, but we know that it will be a few years until those beds become available.

LORETTA RYAN:   I suppose the thing people say is, why are we waiting so long, what is causing the delay? Can you give us an answer to that?

DR MARIA BOULTON:   There's a couple of issues. There are not enough services available in rural and regional Queensland compared to, for example, rural and regional New South Wales. So one is the lack of services, for example, ear, nose and throat surgery, vascular surgery, they're not available in some of those areas.

The other issue is workforce. Workforce is our main priority when it comes to the upcoming election. We know that there are workforce pressures across all of the healthcare sector - doctors, nurses and allied health. And without the workforce, the work cannot be done. So it's about alleviating those workforce pressures. But most importantly, we know that there are amazing, very hardworking doctors and nurses in those areas that do need support right now so that they can continue doing the work that they are doing.

JOEL SPREADBOROUGH:   Dr Maria Boulton, GP and President of the Australian Medical Association Queensland, obviously the pressure is going both ways here and surgeons themselves are dealing with this. What are you hearing from them around the extended wait times?

DR MARIA BOULTON:   They are so concerned for their patients and they fear that patients are not seen within the recommended time. When you look at some of the figures, for example, in central Queensland, less than a third of the patients are having their Category 3 surgery within the clinical recommended time. The fear is that those patients will deteriorate in their health before they have the opportunity to have that surgery. And once they deteriorate, the surgery does become a little bit harder and the patient may not recover as quickly.

There's also the concern that when patients have to travel to major centres to have those surgeries that aren't available closer to home, that the patient subsidy for that travel is woeful. It's not enough to cover their costs. And that may lead to patients putting off that surgery, which in turn may deteriorate their health outcomes. So they are very concerned. And that's why they have reached out to us.

LORETTA RYAN:   Dr Maria Boulton, what would you say would be an expected time that someone would have to wait for surgery?

DR MARIA BOULTON:   There are very clear clinical guidelines. There are four categories of surgery: emergency, which has to be done within the first 24 hours, then Category 1 surgeries, Category 2 and Category 3. When you look at Category 3, the clinical recommendation is for them to be done within a year, and they include surgeries like hip and knee replacement. If you're someone who's booked for one of those, they will tell you that they have pain every day and that it interferes with their ability to go through with their daily activities, and that might affect their work.

LORETTA RYAN:   You’re saying it might affect their ability to work, the pain they’re going through?

DR MARIA BOULTON:   Correct. And their ability to look after themselves and others. To live in that pain for any longer than possible is really unfair and it’s excruciating for those people.

LORETTA RYAN:   It really is. Let’s hope we get some answers out of your Roundtable. Thanks for that, Dr Maria Boulton.

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