27 January 2023

We have world’s seventh-worst wait times

Hospital Political

Australia was ranked seventh by a recent US study that examined how long patients have to wait before receiving treatment in countries with universal healthcare coverage.

The study identified 10 countries (including the US) where patients had to wait more than one day to see their “regular doctor” and more than one month for specialist treatment. Canada topped the list, with 33% of patients and 61% patients respectively having to wait this long.

In Australia, 14% of patients had to wait more than one day to see their doctor while 39% had to wait more than a month to see a specialist.

The findings will have taken some in the US by surprise.

“A common misconception in the US is that countries with universal healthcare have much longer wait times,” the report said. “However, data from nations with universal coverage, coupled with historical data from coverage expansion in the United States, show that patients in other nations often have similar or shorter wait times.

“The US – at 28% – was on the higher side for the share of people who sometimes, rarely, or never get an answer from their regular doctor on the same day. Canada had the highest at 33% and Switzerland had the lowest, at 12%. The US – at 27% – was towards the lower end for the share of people waiting one month or more for a specialist appointment. Canada and Norway tied for the highest at 61% each and Switzerland had the lowest at 23%.”

New Zealand wait times were slightly longer than Australia’s, with 17% of Kiwi patients having to wait more than a day to see their regular doctor and 48% staying on the wait list for at least a month before seeing a specialist.

The study also looked at the median wait times to receive cataract surgery, finding that Canadians had a median 66 days to wait before receiving surgery but Australians had a median 84 days’ wait. Of the 10 countries that reported waiting times for cataract surgery, Norway was the worst at 132 days.

The study, conducted by NiceRx – a US organisation which describes itself as a “patient assistance” provider – was based on World Population Review’s Health Care Wait Times by Country 2022. Data allowed countries to be ranked to give a normalised score and were accurate as of 19 October 2022 and cover the period from 7 January 2020 to 31 March 2021.

In September 2022, AMA president Steve Robson expressed grave concerns about Australia’s “hidden” waiting lists, which cover the period between the GP’s referring a patient to a specialist and the time they get to attend the specialist consultation.

This contrasts with “official” waiting lists, which refer to time to surgery after receiving a specialist referral.

An AMA report released that month claimed “waiting times to see the general practitioner are low” since these times are increasing the problem will likely be compounded.

The report’s more striking statistics included that:

  • In Victoria, a patient will wait more than 900 days for an urgent neurosurgery appointment (target 30 days)
  • In Queensland, a patient will wait more than 150 days for an urgent gastroenterology or rheumatology appointment (target 30 days)
  • For non-urgent appointments (target 365 days) in Queensland and Victoria, waiting times for ophthalmology, orthopaedic, and plastic/reconstructive appointments are all more than 700 days in both states
  • The average waiting time in Tasmania was 101.2 days for urgent patients (target 30 days).