ABC News: If you need elective surgery, it helps not to be Tasmanian, data shows


This article was written by Alexandra Humphries for ABC News. Published January 25, 2022. To access the original article, click here. 

Four-year-old Saul Lockheed can’t sleep more than four hours a night.

He struggles with sleep apnoea, and is one of thousands of Tasmanians waiting for surgery to address a life-altering condition.

Saul, who has autism and epilepsy, is on the waiting list for a semi-urgent procedure to remove tonsils and adenoids.

But new Australian Institute of Health and Welfare figures lay bare the disadvantage Saul has by being in Tasmania compared to any other state or territory in the country.

The data reveals almost one in five Tasmanian patients, or 19.3 per cent, waited more than a year for their surgery in 2020-21 — close to triple the national figure of 7.6 per cent.

The figure also represented a drastic surge in the number who waited more than 12 months in 2019-20, when it was just under 10 per cent.

Those statistics come from a period in which the state was relatively COVID-free, compared to other states suffering through outbreaks.

Saul’s mother Meredith said despite a clinically recommended wait time of up to 90 days for the surgery, Saul had already been on the list for 100 days, and was likely to stay on there much longer.

“It’s really frustrating knowing that we’re not going to get, not even an immediate result, but a short to mid-term result.”

Ms Lockheed says when Saul does get to sleep, he “struggles with not being able to breathe properly”.

The result, she says, is he is “startled awake when he stops breathing”.

The data also shows that 64 per cent of the most urgent category of patients in Tasmania were seen within clinically recommended time frames in 2020-21.

This compares to more than 90 per cent of category one patients being seen on time in Victoria, NSW, ACT and Queensland.

And only just over a third of category two and category three Tasmanian patients, who are supposed to be treated within 90 days and 365 days respectively, were seen in time.

The figures for the next worst-performing state for those non-urgent categories, the Northern Territory, were nearly twice as good as Tasmania’s.

Of those still on the elective surgery waiting list in Tasmania last June, the average overdue wait time was 234 days.

Tasmanian Opposition Leader Rebecca White says problems with the elective surgery wait list “pre-date COVID”.

“We have people waiting for elective surgery three times longer than people who are living on the mainland and we’re talking about necessary surgery that they need to have a fulfilling life,” she said.

“The government has known for a long time that they need to properly invest in health services to make sure that people can access the care that they need.”

Tasmanian Health Secretary Kathrine Morgan-Wicks said Tasmania’s elective surgery waiting list had reduced by about 2,000 between January and December last year.

As of November 21, 10,247 people are listed as being on the state’s public system elective surgery waiting list.

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