The Australian Medical Association (AMA) has joined with medical colleges to call on the federal and state and territory governments to take immediate action to tackle ever-growing
surgery waiting lists, with hundreds of thousands of Australians often waiting years in terrible pain. 

The AMA; Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS); Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists (RANZCO) and Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RANZCOG) have written to federal Health Minister, Mark Butler, calling for action to get public hospitals out of logjam.  

The group says while the National Hospital Funding Agreement (NHRA) needs reform; a new agreement won’t be introduced until 2025, and there’s desperate need for a new plan to tackle the existing backlog of surgeries. 

The AMA and the medical colleges are pushing for 50–50 funding in the new NHRA and the removal of the 6.5 per cent cap on funding growth, together with the reintroduction of performance funding. 

AMA President Professor Steve Robson says hundreds of thousands of people are waiting for essential surgery and urgent action is needed now. 

“Sick and injured patients across Australia have been suffering for far too long on surgical waiting lists,” Professor Robson said. 

“We need action now — from all governments — to get our hospitals out of logjam and help all those Australians whose lives are being severely impacted because they can’t get the surgery they need.” 

The letter says new funding must be dedicated to clearing the surgery backlog, with an estimated $4.4 billion — shared between state, territory and Commonwealth governments — needed over two years.

Immediate action is required to help public hospitals expand capacity, as we estimate the elective surgery backlog is likely to be above 500,000 patients and growing, while the “hidden waiting list” for initial public outpatient appointments could exceed 400,000.

RACS President Associate Professor Kerin Fielding stressed the importance of recognising the community’s continuing and increasing demands for specialist surgical care and access to elective surgery. 

“The capacity of health services to improve standards of living through surgery is increasing, but the allocation of resources to support this still requires improvement. So too does the term ‘elective surgery’, which has been questioned by the College, since ‘essential surgery’ seems more accurate,” Professor Fielding said.

“We should also look at improving efficiencies within the public health infrastructure by establishing facilities with dedicated surgical beds reserved for planned elective surgery patients to ensure emergency admissions do not occupy theatre and bed resourcing.”

RANZCO President Dr Grant Raymond said: “Publicly funded cataract surgery is under enormous pressure with the current waiting times for elective surgeries adding distress to many patients. Without targeted intervention the excessive delays for the elderly will continue to worsen”.

RANZCOG President Dr Benjamin Bopp said: “The current waiting times for elective surgeries for women is adding distress to many and impacting on quality of life, not just for individuals but also their families and communities. This will only get worse without targeted intervention”.

AMA: 0427 209 753          RACS: 0429 028 933               RANZCO: 02 9690 1001               RANZCOG: 0448 735 749