Public hospital wait times to watch out for - Septoplasty

By Brandon Taylor

6 minutes

26 August 2019

Filling out medical form

There’s nothing like a good night’s sleep. But if you live in WA and suffer from a deviated septum, you may have to wait over a year to get one.

A deviated nasal septum is a condition of the nose that can make it difficult to sleep at night.

The fix, called septoplasty, is just a small incision. But when you find out how long the public wait time is for this procedure, your nose may be put out of joint (pun fully intended).

How long is the wait for a septoplasty?

As of 2018, correcting a deviated nasal septum in Western Australia’s public system comes with a median wait time of up to 369 days.

When it comes to emergency procedures, Australia’s public health care system is quite efficient. Public hospitals handle emergency cases promptly – even though they handle 9 in 10 admissions.

The problem is that septoplasty is an elective (non-emergency) surgery. Public hospital wait times for some elective surgeries can be over a year long.

The bigger picture for elective surgery

Septoplasty isn’t the only elective surgery that comes with a long wait time in the public system.

Other procedures like shoulder reconstruction, total knee replacement and tonsillectomy can also have you tapping your toes for some time. For each of these procedures, at least one public WA hospital reported a median wait time of over 100 days in 2018.

It’s also important to remember that these numbers are ‘median’ waits.

A median wait is the amount of time in which 50 per cent of patients were seen. So when you consider Fiona Stanley’s 2018 median wait time of 369 days for a septoplasty, keep in mind that 50 per cent of those septoplasty patients had to wait longer.

And these wait times only kick off once your specialist refers you to surgery. Before that point, there’s another waiting period, also known as the hidden wait list.

What about the ‘hidden wait list’?

If you’re after an elective surgery, in most cases you see your GP first. They will refer you to a specialist who can then add you to the official wait list for your surgery.

Between seeing your GP and seeing the specialist, there is another wait. Some doctors call this the ‘hidden wait list’ or the ‘wait-to-wait’.

At the end of December 2017, the median time for this extra wait in the public system was almost 9 months.

Combine the original wait list with the wait-to-wait, and it could take well over a year to get that septoplasty sorted.

Living with a deviated nasal septum

So what does life look like while waiting for a septoplasty? That depends on the severity of your case. Subiaco surgeon Dr. Phillip Grey fills us in on the details.

“The reason for operating is when patients have a significant nasal obstruction,” says Dr. Grey,  who has been performing septoplasties for 28 years.

“This [obstruction] will affect their ability to breathe through their nose and therefore sleep comfortably at night.”

Other symptoms include blockage of one or both nostrils, frequent nosebleeds, frequent sinus infections, and even facial pain.

To wait or not to wait?

Looking at public hospital wait times, it becomes clear that if you’re going public, you’ve got to know what to expect so you can plan ahead.

Otherwise, the need to live with a deviated septum – or any other condition requiring elective surgery – for over a year could come as an unpleasant surprise.

Compare this to elective surgeries in the private system, where you usually see a specialist in two to three weeks. You also get to pick your preferred doctor and schedule a surgery date that works for you.

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