NSW was the only state to go backwards in elective surgery performance last year, new figures show, with patients waiting longer for their procedures. There was also a small drop in the number of operations.The federal Health Minister, Nicola Roxon, pointed to a 3.1 per cent increase in the number of elective procedures performed nationally and boasted of a fall in the number of people Australia-wide obliged to wait more than a year for elective surgery admission. She attributed this to the government’s allocation of extra money to clear backlogs in state public hospitals.But in NSW, there was a very small fall in the number of elective patients admitted to hospital after being on a waiting list last year – to 199,384 – compared with significant rises in other states, including Victoria which increased the number of elective operations by 14 per cent.About 5000 people admitted to NSW public hospitals for elective surgery in the year to July 2009 had been on a waiting list for 365 days or longer, up from 3600 the year before, according to statistics published today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.National and state targets say no patient should have to wait longer than a year.The average NSW patient waited 39 days for admission, compared with the national average of 34 days, while 10 per cent of NSW patients waited 283 days or longer. Only Tasmania, the Northern Territory and the ACT had longer waits.George Bodilsen, the head of the institute’s hospitals unit, said the national figures were positive. While the average waiting time had increased over the previous four years, ”the proportion of people waiting over a year for elective surgery has decreased to just under 3 per cent, after being almost 5 per cent,” he said, and an extra 30,000 operations were performed last year.”This combination of results – more public elective surgery being done, average waiting times levelling out, fewer long waits and increased admissions from waiting lists – suggest improving access to public elective surgery,” Mr Bodilsen said.NSW’s relatively poor performance could not be attributed to lapses in a particular surgical speciality or type of procedure, which might distort the figures, as its performance appeared below average in most areas, he said.A spokesman for the NSW Minister for Health, Carmel Tebbutt, said the blow-out in average waits was a result of a program that gave priority to those who had waited longest.NSW had, ”undertaken a blitz on long-wait patients in calendar year 2008, so as a proportion of the total patients treated, more longer wait patients received their operation in 2008-09,” compared with the previous year, the spokesman said. ”This concentration on treating long wait patients resulted in an increase in median wait time.”He said the average waiting time for category 1 patients – the most urgent elective cases – was 10 days, significantly under the 30-day recommended maximum.The government last week announced an additional $53.8 million for elective surgery in the health budget for this year, but did not reveal targets for the number of procedures this was expected to provide.
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