The buck stops here: Health Minister Michelle O’Byrne and Premier Lara Giddings. Picture: Rob Walls,

Access to elective surgery in Tasmanian public hospitals is the worst in the nation by a huge margin, according to a new analysis.

And many patients in need of operations ‒ at least several hundred but more likely to be in the thousands ‒ can never realistically expect to be treated. Many of these patients are in constant pain.

The report, by independent health policy analyst Martyn Goddard ( Martyn Goddard’s TT archive of analyses, here ), draws on the most recent national and state data for 2012 that shows for the first time how Tasmania compared with the rest of Australia. It also shows the first full year under the state government’s 2011 budget cuts to elective surgery.

‘By almost every measure, access to elective surgery for Tasmanian public patients is massively worse than any other state or territory,’ Goddard said. ‘The budget cuts made an already bad situation into one that is plainly unacceptable.

‘The greatest cost is borne by patients in the least-urgent category, whose operations can be deferred even though they may be in constant pain and distress. Of the 105 patients in this category who had already been waiting the longest by the end of 2011, all but seven remained on the waiting list a year later; 93.3% were still waiting. This compares with none in NSW, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and the ACT.

‘As there are many reasons for dropping off the list ‒ including dying while waiting, moving interstate or giving up ‒ it is entirely likely that none of those patents had in fact been treated.

‘In addition, recent state data show about 11,000 people have been referred to a surgeon but their names have not been added to the official waiting list because they have not even been able to get their first consultation. Some people have been waiting for years just to talk to a specialist.

‘Then there are the people whose GPs know need an operation but who have not been referred to a public hospital because there is no point in doing so. We cannot even guess at the numbers in this situation.

‘But putting the whole picture together, it is probable that the people who are unlikely ever to get clinically necessary operations are in the thousands rather than in the hundreds.

‘These new data give us the most complete picture yet of what is going on. Until now, we have known only anecdotally from doctors that some patients will never be treated. Now the figures prove it.

‘The budget cuts also had a serious effect. Overall admissions for elective surgery fell by 8.9% between 2010-11 and calendar 2012. There was a decrease in admissions of 30.4% for hip replacements and 33.3% for knee replacements.

‘Waiting times are the longest in the nation. In 2011-12, 9.4% of patients had waited for longer than a year for their operations, compared with 2.7% for Australia as a whole.’

Download the full analysis:

Martyn Goddard’s archive of analyses for Tasmanian Times, here

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