Elective surgery slumps but ED waits improve, says health report card

Ian Bushnell 17 July 2020
Canberra Hospital

Elective surgery going nowhere but ED waiting times improved. Photo: File.

The elective surgery situation for urgent cases in the ACT’s public hospitals worsened in the January to March quarter despite a week of non-urgent procedures being lost due to COVID-19 measures.

The impact of these measures on the ACT public health system was beginning to be felt during the quarter, according to the latest quarterly performance report released today (17 July).

Non-urgent surgery numbers fell away as could be expected, but there were also declines in urgent or semi-urgent surgeries, which had not been put on hold, particularly at Calvary Public Hospital.

Conversely, COVID-19 measures may have helped improve emergency department waiting times due to a fall-off in presentations compared with the previous quarter.

Presentations were up at all Walk-in Centres except Tuggeranong, due to the opening of the Weston centre which recorded a full quarter for the first time and also conducted COVID-19 testing. The average wait was 16 minutes, a minute better than the previous quarter.

The report also captures COVID-19 testing at the EPIC Respiratory Clinic where 1370 people presented.

The number of patients waiting for their elective surgery was 5,355 (up 4.4 per cent), and the number of overdue patients was 889 (up 13.5 per cent), but there were 7.5 per cent fewer additions to the waiting list – 3,732 compared with 4,035.

The number of days patients were waiting for their surgery was the same for urgent cases (17), but for semi-urgent (70) and non-urgent (219) cases they were up 11.1 per cent and 17.1 per cent.

ACT health worker

An ACT health worker at the drive-through testing centre at Exhibition Park. Photo: File.

The total number of elective surgeries fell 11.2 per cent on the previous quarter, with the unaffected urgent (Category 1) and semi-urgent (Category 2) work falling by 11.2 per cent and 5.1 per cent respectively, and non-urgent (Category 3) slumping 18.6 per cent.

At Canberra Hospital, procedures fell 12.5 per cent, with urgent surgeries down 8.3 per cent, semi-urgent down 6.3 per cent and non-urgent a massive 30 per cent.

At Calvary, the number of procedures fell 9.5 per cent but urgent surgeries slumped 18.6 per cent, while the semi-urgent category was only down 3.5 per cent and non-urgent procedures down 10.6 per cent.

The percentage of elective surgery procedures performed within clinically recommended timeframes was much the same as the previous quarter for urgent and non-urgent but for semi-urgent cases it was down 8.7 per cent.

The health system has embarked on a catch-up surgery surge after the government injected $30 million into elective surgery and other areas.

In the EDs, presentations (35,803 ) were down overall by 4.7 per cent or about 1700, mostly in emergency (Category 2) and urgent (Category 3).

The number of patients leaving the ED within four hours was up from 55 per cent to 57.2 per cent.

Median waiting times for treatment were better for all categories: Emergency, 6 minutes from 7; Urgent, 60 from 68; Semi-urgent 64 from 77; and non-urgent, 47 from 62.

Calvary (13,932 presentations) outperformed Canberra Hospital (21,871), which shouldered most of the burden.

At the Canberra Hospital, median waiting times were Emergency, steady at 7 minutes; Urgent 76 from 85; Semi-urgent, 73 from 85; and Non-urgent, 50 from 69.

At Calvary, median waiting times were steady at Emergency, 6 minutes; Urgent, 44 from 49; Semi-urgent, 46 from 58; and Non-urgent, 39 from 43.

Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said the report showed almost 94 per cent of patients provided positive feedback on their experience at Canberra Hospital and more than 95 per cent reported a positive experience at Calvary Public Hospital Bruce.

“This is a fantastic result, particularly considering the extraordinary events experienced by our community over January to March 2020,” she said.

She said the ACT was on track to deliver a record 14,250 elective surgeries for the year prior to COVID-19 restrictions, and by the end of March, the ACT public system had performed 10,422 procedures compared with 10,289 at the same time the year before.

”Unfortunately, the impact of COVID-19 has resulted in a reduction in elective surgeries since 25 March and an increase in overdue patients, which is why the ACT Government has committed to deliver at least 16,000 elective surgeries in 2020-21 to address the impacts of COVID-19,” she said.

Ms Stephen-Smith said it was pleasing to see improvements in Emergency Department waiting times and the proportion of patients treated on time across all triage categories.

”Emergency Department presentations dropped slightly from quarter two, which was expected due to the impact of COVID-19. However, the growth in particularly complex presentations over time has continued, with category one presentations increasing by more than 30 per cent compared with the same quarter in 2019 (270 compared to 207),” she said.

”There is still work to do on ED waiting times and we are not where we would like to be, but this report shows that the work underway in both hospitals is starting to have an impact.”

To view the full report, visit ACT Health.


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