Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 10 Hansard (24 November) . . Page.. 2782 ..
Hospital Waiting Lists
MR STANHOPE: Mr Speaker, my question is to the Minister for Health and Community Care. According to the ACT Department of Health and Community Care performance report for the September quarter 1998-99, one-third of elective surgery patients are waiting beyond the clinically desirable times in all three categories. The report notes that "the focus will now be to improve this situation by purchasing additional throughput of elective surgery procedures for those patients currently waiting longer than the clinically acceptable timeframes". Can the Minister confirm that the $16.6m the Government received for the early signing of the Medicare agreement was ostensibly for just this purpose? Can the Minister say what he is spending that money on and how much of it will go towards shortening these unacceptable waiting times?
MR MOORE: Mr Speaker, I thank Mr Stanhope for the question. I just need to correct the premise upon which his question was based. I believe he said that a third of each category of elective surgery was beyond the clinically desirable waiting times. That is certainly not the case. At the end of September 1998 across the public hospital system, 4,859 people were listed as waiting for elective surgery. This result actually represents a decline of 75 from the previous month. However, it is unacceptably long. The current waiting lists reflect deterioration due, of course, to the VMO dispute, which we are still dealing with, and the presentation of stockpiled request for admissions forms as VMOs signed their contracts with the hospitals.
Let me say first of all that emergency patients, which are the critical ones, are dealt with straightaway. There are no waiting times; there is no problem there - nor has there been, as I recall, under any Minister since self-government. Category 1 patients, for whom the clinician decides that admission within 30 days is desirable for a condition that has the potential to deteriorate quickly to the point that it may become an emergency, comprised approximately 2.5 per cent of the total waiting list as at 30 September 1998.
Category 2 patients, for whom the clinician decides that admission within 90 days is desirable for a condition causing some pain, dysfunction or disability but which is not likely to deteriorate quickly or become an emergency, comprised about 39.8 per cent of the total waiting list. Category 3 patients, for whom the clinician decides that admission within 12 months is desirable for a condition causing minimal or no pain, dysfunction or disability, which is unlikely to deteriorate quickly and which does not have the potential to become an emergency, accounted for close enough to 60 per cent - 57.7 per cent - of the waiting list.
Members would be aware that the waiting lists alone are not a particularly good measure of the effectiveness of the hospital system in meeting patient needs; rather, the focus ought to be on the length of time patients have waited before being admitted for the awaited procedure. This is a matter that will be considered by the Standing Committee on