Public hospital wait times to watch out for - Septoplasty


6 minutes

26 August 2019

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There’s nothing like a good night’s sleep. But if you suffer from a deviated nasal septum (the thin wall in your nose that separates your right and left nasal passages being displaced to one side), you may have to wait over eight months to receive surgery1.

A deviated nasal septum 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?

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.

As of 2019, correcting a deviated nasal septum in the public system comes with a median wait time of up to 241 days1. A median wait is the amount of time in which 50 per cent of patients were seen.

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 80 days in 2018-20191.

When you consider Perth’s Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital’s median wait time of 389 days for a septoplasty1, 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’.

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.

“The reason for operating is when patients have a significant nasal obstruction,” says Dr. Philip Grey, a WA surgeon 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 pain2.

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.

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1AIHW - Elective surgery waiting times multilevel data (2020)
2Harvard - Deviated Septum (2019)