New report highlights public-private wait time gap

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Wait times for elective surgery are on average much longer in public hospitals compared to private hospitals, according to a new report from HBF.

The report is based on data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), the WA Department of Health and newly obtained private hospital data, to compare the end-to-end journey for an elective surgery patient in both parts of the health system.

According to HBF CEO, John Van Der Wielen, the purpose of the report is to help consumers make informed decisions about their healthcare.

“The Western Australian public health system does a great job in emergency services and the new infrastructure in WA is world class.

“It is, however, critical that Western Australians also understand how long they can expect to wait for elective surgery, from the time they visit their GP, to the time they’re admitted for surgery,” said Mr Van Der Wielen.

“Public wait times reported by the media frequently do not reflect the full patient journey, and there is currently no centralised data source for consumers to compare their estimated wait times in public and private hospitals,” he said.

The report found the average wait time between first GP appointment and first specialist appointment varied significantly between WA-based public and a selection of private hospitals.

The median wait time was just 0.5 months at the private hospitals, compared to almost 6 months at Royal Perth Hospital and 10 months at the Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital.

There was also a significant difference between hospitals when it came to the median time between the decision to treat with surgery and admission to hospital for surgery.

For knee replacements, the median wait time was just 0.75 months at the private hospitals, compared to almost 7.7 months at Royal Perth Hospital and 4 months at the Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital.

According to the HBF report, "With private insurance affordability an increasing concern, a false picture of public hospital elective surgery waiting times could lead to more people cancelling their private hospital cover, placing even greater demand on an already struggling system.

"To maintain the balance between our private and public hospital systems, and ensure consumers can make informed decisions about their healthcare, both the public and private system must act.

"There is a compelling need for a single, easy to understand report that sets out the total waiting time for the end-to-end patient journey, from a first visit to a GP to receiving elective surgery in the public hospital system."

“Fragmented wait times data is an issue because with positive perceptions of the public system at an all-time high, and affordability an increasing concern, more people are dropping their private cover which places greater pressure on the public system, increasing public wait times further,” continued Mr Van Der Wielen.

Currently the ‘wait time’ reported by the AIHW in major reports such as the Elective Surgery Waiting Times report refers only to the time between placement on the waiting list and admission to surgery - omitting the first part of the journey.

By compiling data that includes the ‘wait-to-wait’ and ‘wait time’, the HBF report paints a more realistic picture of the overall wait times for public and private patients.