$250m surgery blitz to slash surgery wait times

THE Palaszczuk Government will spend $250 million on an elective surgery blitz after a pandemic pause to non-urgent operations has meant more than 7000 Queenslanders have waited longer than medically recommended for their procedures.

With elective surgery returning to near-normal activity, Health Minister Steven Miles said the significant investment would allow public hospitals to provide extra theatre lists at night and on weekends.

The decision by the Cabinet Budget Review Committee would also buy capacity in the private sector to drive down public hospital elective surgery waiting lists.

Queensland Health Director-General, Dr John Wakefield. Photo: Peter Wallis.
Queensland Health Director-General, Dr John Wakefield. Photo: Peter Wallis.

Queensland Health Director-General John Wakefield said the government's $250 million commitment would mean hospitals would be able to return to pre-pandemic levels of elective surgery much sooner than planned.

"We will be able to work through the backlog at a much faster pace," Dr Wakefield said.

"Our hospitals are rapidly increasing services - with elective surgery activity at more than 90 per cent across the system.

"This investment will require us to expand over and beyond our usual levels of activity, plus work in partnership with the private sector. It may take up to 12 months to clear the backlog, but could be longer if we have further disruption to our system, such as a second wave of COVID-19 cases."

The $250 million investment comes on top of the $20 million the government spent to fast-track elective surgeries earlier this year after the Sunday-Mail's Operation Wait Loss campaign, which found some women had waited years for breast reconstruction operations after cancer.

Cataract removal and ear, nose and throat surgeries were also highlighted as problem areas.

As of June 1, Queensland had 52,240 patients on elective surgery lists with more than 90 per cent waiting within medically recommended time frames.

Deputy Premier Steven Miles. Photo: Richard Walker.
Deputy Premier Steven Miles. Photo: Richard Walker.

But Mr Miles said Queensland Health modelling indicated more than 7000 people would have been waiting too long for their operations by next month as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Category 1 elective procedures - operations considered urgent enough to be clinically recommended to occur within 30 days - have continued unabated during the coronavirus crisis, with about 4000 patients being treated each month.

Mr Miles said less urgent category 2 and category 3 operations were suspended for weeks during the public health emergency to preserve personal protective equipment and free-up beds as part of the state's pandemic response.

Doctors recommend category 2 procedures be performed within 90 days and category 3 operations within a year of the patient being referred for surgery.

Queensland Health suspended non-urgent elective surgery in line with Prime Minister Scott Morrison's announcement in March.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk justified the decision yesterday, saying Queensland had to prepare for the "worst case" coronavirus scenario that had played out in China, Italy, the UK and US.

Queensland Chief Health Officer, Dr Jeannette Young. Photo: Liam Kidston.
Queensland Chief Health Officer, Dr Jeannette Young. Photo: Liam Kidston.

In mid-March, the state's Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young predicted 12,500 Queenslanders could die in the first six months of the pandemic, based on what was happening overseas. Non-urgent elective surgery procedures ceased days later.

"We have been responding to the global COVID-19 pandemic by concentrating all necessary resources on keeping Queenslanders safe," Ms Palaszczuk said yesterday.

"We supported the Prime Minister's move to suspend non-urgent procedures nationwide as we prepared for an onslaught of tens of thousands of cases and thousands of deaths - but thanks to the efforts of our community, that did not become a reality for Queensland or Australia."

One new case of the virus was reported in Queensland yesterday, taking the state's tally of known infections to 1065, including six deaths.