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Concern over elective surgery demand

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Max Davies
Max Davies
Max is a journalist for the North Central Review. He joined the paper as a cadet journalist in 2021 and graduated from La Trobe University in 2023. He takes a keen interest in motorsport and the automotive industry.

By Max Davies

Waitlists for elective surgery decreased state-wide over the course of 2022, however the number of patients waiting at Goulburn Valley, GV, Health and Northern Health remains high.

Elective surgery, as defined by the Victorian Agency for Health Information, VAHI, is ‘necessary surgery that can be delayed for at least 24 hours’ and falls into three categories: urgent, semi-urgent and non-urgent.

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According to VAHI, there are currently 82,613 patients on the elective surgery waitlist across Victoria, with a 35-day median waiting time but more than 75 per cent of patients treated within the recommended time.

Member for Euroa Annabelle Cleeland, who is also shadow parliamentary secretary for health, said the impacts of deferred care and the COVID-19 pandemic were still being felt throughout the state’s health system.

“Our local health services will be forced to play catch up for years due to the mismanagement of our health system – something exacerbated by the COVID pandemic,” she said.

“Over just 12 months the waitlist at GV Health has grown by 244. For so many, these straightforward surgeries are delayed and deferred until patients need to attend an emergency room as their conditions worsen.”

Over October to December, the number of patients waiting for surgery at GV Health in Shepparton increased by 166 while Northern Health’s waitlist for category one surgeries – those requiring urgent treatment within 30 days – increased by 57 patients.

During the same time in 2021, two per cent of patients on the elective surgery waitlist across Victoria were waiting longer than 365 days for treatment, while last year the figure increased to 10 per cent.

Despite the increase in overdue surgeries, 45,561 patients on the waitlist had been treated in December 2022, while November saw a record number of elective surgeries delivered with 46,052.

A State Government spokesperson said despite an increase in demand for health services, they were optimistic about a decrease in elective surgery waitlist times.

“In spite of record demand for services and the ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are pleased to see the planned surgery waitlist continue to decrease,” they said.

“While the most urgent patients are always prioritised and treated first, we know that some Victorians are still experiencing long wait times for treatment, and we thank them for their patience and understanding.”

To help manage the increase in demand for elective surgery, the State Government is using the $1.5 billion COVID Catch Up Plan, aimed at boosting surgical activity across Victoria.

The plan includes investment in theatre capacity, workforce and surgical equipment, as well as funding for eight planned Rapid Access Hubs to increase elective surgery capacity and $20 million for the Surgical Equipment Innovation Fund to upgrade equipment and machines.

Despite the investment, Ms Cleeland said there should still be more done to improve the system and reduce the severity of surgery waitlist times.

“Every single one of these people has a story to tell and is in desperate need of surgery to improve their quality of life,” she said.

“One in four people aren’t getting their treatment on time. It’s clear the system isn’t working, and it is particularly acute across our region.”

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