15 June 2021

Patients needing tonsils out waiting more than two years for outpatient appointment

| Lottie Twyford
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Ambulance driving towards Canberra Hospital

Some patients in the ACT have been waiting for an outpatients’ appointment for more than two years. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Concerns about the wait time for a simple surgery to remove her son’s tonsils, adenoids and grommets has led to one Canberra woman seeking community funding to go through the private hospital system instead.

A spokesperson for Canberra Health Services confirmed the current average wait time for the 3199 people waiting for an outpatient appointment to be categorised is two years and five months.

When mother Sandy Winters-Scheerlinck learned of this, she decided it was unacceptably long.

Her son, Xander, suffers sleep problems, hearing loss, speech delays and behavioural issues because of problems associated with his tonsils, grommets and adenoids.

As a parent, she says it can be very stressful to hear three-year-old Xander struggling to breathe at night.

“The impact on his speech development has also been quite distressing,” says Sandy.

“Kids can be brutal and we didn’t want to have to wait until he started school.”

Toddler Xander playing with balls

Three-year-old Xander suffers breathing, hearing and sleeping difficulties, as well as behavioral issues, because of his tonsils, adenoids and grommets. Photo: GoFundMe.

When Sandy first spoke to Canberra Hospital last year, she was advised of this two-year wait so made the decision to go private instead. Only six months after calling the ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist, they had an appointment. Four weeks later, surgery was booked in.

Because Sandy was unwilling to wait, to get herself over the line financially she turned to a GoFundMe page.

“Initially, I was embarrassed to put up my hand for help, but once I received the final date for surgery I needed to get myself over the line for manageable borrowing,” she says.

Xander’s tonsils, adenoids and grommets were removed in a surgical procedure on 8 June. He is now recovering well, much to Sandy’s relief.

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A spokesperson for Canberra Health Services (CHS) explained that wait times for such surgeries vary in line with clinical urgency. Urgent category-one cases are seen before others.

Once on the waitlist for ENT surgery, an acceptable wait-time is categorised as within 30 days for category one, 90 days for category two, and 365 days for category three.

Currently, the average wait time for category-one elective cases is between a few days and a few weeks, once seen by a specialist. The current median wait time for category two is 63 days, and for category three it’s 231 days.

However, before being categorised, patients must be seen at an outpatients’ appointment, the order of which is determined by the referral from the patient’s GP.

The spokesperson explained that COVID-19 impacted wait times because many non-urgent appointments were cancelled between March and June 2020.

Specifically, 105 tonsillectomies were delayed as a direct result of the cessation of non-essential surgery between March and June 2020 due to COVID-19.

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Yet the ACT Government subsequently funded 107 tonsillectomies to take place in the private system, as well as an extra 56 to take place in extraordinary sessions at CHS.

According to the spokesperson, this has been helped by several CHS otolaryngology health and neck specialists who have committed time outside of their usual hours to assist, including on weekends and during holiday periods.

The ACT Government is also funding additional outpatient appointments in order to begin to clear the backlog of people waiting for these surgical procedures. As of early June 2021, more than 4000 additional outpatients appointments had been completed under this program.

In June 2020, there was a total of 428 people on the surgical waiting list. At April 2021, this number had dropped to 80.

Alongside COVID-19 related delays, the CHS spokesperson explained there is a high demand for operating theatres at Canberra Hospital, Calvary Public and private hospitals for emergency surgeries.

The impact of this flows on and affects the number of ear, nose and throat surgeries that can be performed each week in the ACT.

CHS recommends anyone who is waiting for elective surgery should contact their medical professional to seek advice from the Territory Wide Surgical Services team on 02 5124 9889.

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Quarter of all patients are not ACT residents. It seems obvious nsw needs to build a hospital somewhere rather that sponging off ACT

Finagen_erection10:48 am 15 Jun 21

It’s simply a result of poor investments by governments (plural) and failures in leadership within CHS.

The CEO has quit, the CFO quit and the latest to announce she is quitting is the COO.

The three chiefs have announced ‘family matters’ mean they are moving on.

Rings about as true as a drop bear.

I don’t know about anybody else, but in 2009 I had to wait 18 months for a prostate cancer procedure. I had to have another one recently and I only had to wait a few weeks.

ChrisinTurner6:39 pm 11 Jun 21

But there are $Billions available to replace buses with trams with twice the journey time, half the seats and half the frequency.

Issue with health isn’t lack of money or facilities.

Capital Retro5:14 pm 11 Jun 21

Richie Thomson, most Canberrans who clog up the public system have a mindset that refuses to allow them to share the cost of anything – not even a $5.00 co-payment to see a private GP.

They demand it all for free and some are even prepared to die while waiting for it.

ChrisinTurner6:46 pm 11 Jun 21

How long is it since the copayment to see a GP was $5. I pay $35.

Capital Retro7:14 pm 11 Jun 21

I am referring to Joe Hockey’s (Treasurer in the last Abbott government) failed attempt to introduce it.

Christian your $35 is not a co-payment that is you paying your doctor more than what Medicare pays then.

The proposed co-payment would have applied to all visits including those that were fully bulk billed and was a way for the doctor to get more without Medicare paying for it.

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