The procedures leaving kids with a 100 day wait

By Hayley Baldwin

5 minutes

24 July 2019

Young boy on couch reading book

When your little one is sick or in pain, helping them get well becomes your number one priority. But what if you had to wait months to make everything better? 

Wait times for elective (non-emergency) surgeries in public hospitals are unpredictable, fluctuating dramatically from year to year.

Kids’ wait times in WA are no exception. Many common procedures come with median wait times over 100 days, and some of them stretch to over 300. 

This data was released on the MyHospitals website  by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. We’re going to take a look at what it means for you and your kids, but first:

A word about wait times

Australia’s health care system is recognised as one of the best in the world, and this is down to the symbiotic relationship between the public and private hospital systems.

The public system handles around nine in 10 emergency admissions, while the private hospital system handles around seven in 10 cases of elective surgery. If one of the systems were to collapse, our health system would suffer greatly.

Before we dive into the data, it’s important to understand what we mean by a public hospital’s ‘median wait time’.

A wait time refers to the time between being placed on the elective surgery waiting list (ESWL) and receiving surgery. The numbers do not factor in the ‘wait-to-wait’, which is the weeks or months spent waiting to see a specialist. 

Wait-to-wait is shown before Follow-up specalist visits and finally ESWL waiting time
Source: HBF Public and Private Wait Times report 2018

A ‘median’ wait time is the time within which 50 per cent of cases were seen. The other 50 per cent had to wait longer.

 In some cases, data is not available for specific procedures at some hospitals, so median wait times in those hospitals could be higher or lower than the times listed here.

Finally, when it comes to private hospitals, we only have average wait times. These average wait times were provided by St John of God and Ramsay Health Care in November 2018, for our Public and Private Wait Times report.

Average wait times cannot be directly compared to median wait times as they’re two different collection methods. However, they do provide a strong indication of how long you can wait in each system.

Wait times for a tonsillectomy

With so many kids having their tonsils removed, it’s no surprise to hear that there’s a long line for tonsillectomies.

Of the 19 hospitals that reported median wait times, 12 recorded a median wait over 100 days

Bunbury Hospital had the longest median wait of all public hospitals, with 476 days.

Imagine how many tubs of ice cream it would take to keep those inflamed tonsils at bay for over a year.

Before you go booking a pre-emptive tonsillectomy just in case, remember that wait times can vary each year. Take Fremantle Hospital; it had a median recorded wait time of almost a year during 2016-2017, but this dropped to just 76 days between 2017-2018.

Average private wait time: 2 weeks

Highest 5 median public wait times for tonsillectomy 2017-18


Wait times for a myringoplasty/tympanoplasty

Whether it’s a crayon, a toy or a piece of food, kids love sticking objects in their ears. Luckily, we have procedures to help if things go badly.

Myringoplasty and tympanoplasty are procedures that repair a perforated eardrum.

Although the surgery only takes 10-30 minutes, median wait times in public WA hospitals can be over a year long.

Reported median wait times for all but one public hospital were at least 100 days. The exception was Kalgoorlie Hospital, which recorded an impressive seven day median wait.

On the other end of the spectrum was Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, which reported a median wait time of 391 days.

These numbers are lower than they were in 2016-2017, but the bottom line is that for most hospitals, your child will wait at least 100 days for their surgery.

Average private wait time: 2 weeks

Highest 5 median public wait times for myringoplasty/tympanoplasty 2017-18


Wait times for an adenoidectomy

Adenoids are important infection fighters for babies and young kids, but sometimes they can do more harm than good. Doctors can recommend an adenoidectomy when adenoids regularly swell or become infected and medicine doesn’t help.

Unfortunately, they could face a median wait of 182 days - if their nearest hospital is Bunbury Hospital.

Right behind them is Armadale-Kelmscott Memorial Hospital, with a 181 day median wait. This sounds like a long wait, but it’s a big drop from the hospital’s 2016-17 median wait of 308 days.

Another example is Fiona Stanley Hospital, which halved the hospital’s median wait time in a year, and now lists a 100 day wait.

In fact, several WA public hospitals have decreased the wait time for adenoidectomies since last year, and now only three of six hospitals record a median wait of 100 days or more.

Yes this is good news, but that still means nursing a sick child for several months.

Average private wait time: 2-4 weeks

Highest 5 median public wait times for adenoidectomy 2017-18


Wait times for myringotomy

A myringotomy is a surgical incision into the eardrum to drain fluid or relieve pressure. Kids usually need a myringotomy after ear infections to prevent hearing loss and speech development.

Thankfully, only two out of 13 WA public hospitals recorded a median wait time of over 100 days for this procedure. St John of God Midland Public Hospital recorded a median wait time of 139 days, an increase from 2016-17’s 124-day wait. On the other hand, Armadale-Kelmscott Memorial Hospital reported a drastic decrease of 126 days (2017-18) down from 335 days (2016-17).

Average private wait time: 2 weeks

Highest 5 median public wait times for myringotomy 2017-18


Calculate your wait

Wait times in public hospitals have proven to be unpredictable year on year, and vary greatly depending on your nearest hospital and procedure.

If you want peace of mind that you and your family will receive surgery as soon as possible, private health insurance is your fast track ticket.

The procedures with the longest wait times are for ear, nose and throat surgeries, so you should bear this in mind when considering your kids’ cover.

Learn more about accessing elective surgery in our 3-step guide.

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