Public hospital wait times – Why your address matters

By HBF

5 minutes

04 August 2022

You've heard of people choosing where to live based on school catchments, public transport options and crime rates. These things are often top of mind when considering location.

But interestingly, one of the most basic human needs – healthcare – is not usually considered.

Maybe this is because people don’t realise that in the public healthcare system, where you live can have an impact on how soon you can access certain surgeries.

Your local public hospital determines your local wait time

Patients in the public system are not able to choose their specialist or hospital like they can in the private system, because the public referral system is based largely on catchment area. The public hospital nearest you is usually the one you'll be referred to.

This means that if your local hospital has a long waiting list for the procedure you need, you may be stuck waiting through it.

Public hospitals will always prioritise you during an emergency or if your condition is considered clinically urgent.

However, for conditions that are categorised as non-urgent, long wait times may apply.

With this in mind, it can be really helpful to know what the wait times are for common procedures at your local hospital.

So how long is your wait time?

We looked at five common elective surgeries to see how different the wait times really are in select major hospitals across Australia1.

These are median wait times, not averages. Median means that half of the people on the wait list waited longer than the median and half waited shorter than the median.

Please note that the following wait times start after you see a specialist. There’s a separate wait list before you see a specialist called the ‘wait-to-wait’, but that’s another conversation.

The wait times shown below are for the 2021-2022 period so they do not take into consideration the impact of COVID-19 on current hospital wait times.

Tonsillectomy wait times

Tonsillitis most commonly affects young children aged 5-15 because schools or child-care centres can be breeding grounds for the bacteria or viruses that can cause tonsillitis2.

A tonsillectomy, or surgical removal of tonsils, may be recommended by your doctor if you have had reoccurring, chronic or severe tonsillitis or complications from other issues with the tonsils.

The road to recovery may take longer than you think, depending on where you live.

Tonsillectomy wait times
Royal Perth Hospital (WA): 188 days
Fiona Stanley Hospital (WA): 358 days
Royal Adelaide Hospital (SA): 168 days
Flinders Medical Centre (SA): 93 days
Royal Melbourne Hospital (Vic): 264 days
The Alfred (Vic): 127 days
Royal Prince Alfred Hospital (NSW): 162 days
Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital (Qld):
349 days
Gold Coast University Hospital (Qld):
82 days
Royal Darwin Hospital (NT): 54 days
Canberra Hospital (ACT): 485 days

 

While you wait...

Untreated tonsillitis can lead to sore throats, sleepless nights and missed school days. In chronic tonsillitis, these symptoms can come back again and again for months, which can disrupt family life and performance in school. In acute tonsillitis, those swollen tonsils in the back of the throat can cause breathing difficulty.

 
A parent’s guide to tonsils

Learn more about tonsillitis and tonsillectomy in this handy guide.

Learn more

ACL reconstruction wait times

An ACL reconstruction is the surgery required to repair the Anterior Cruciate Ligament, an important ligament in the knee.

We usually hear about sports players injuring an ACL and sitting out for the rest of the season. They get medical treatment almost straight away, and still have to wait that long to get back to work8.

Those of us who aren’t footy stars could be unlucky enough to wait as long as 366 days for a surgery.

ACL RECONSTRUCTION WAIT TIMES
Royal Perth Hospital (WA): 63 days
Fiona Stanley Hospital (WA): 67 days
Royal Adelaide Hospital (SA): 112 days
Royal Melbourne Hospital (Vic): 366 days
The Alfred (Vic): 312 days
Royal Prince Alfred Hospital (NSW): 6 days
Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital (Qld):
85 days
Gold Coast University Hospital (Qld):
69 days
Royal Darwin Hospital (NT): 106 days
Canberra Hospital (ACT): 185 days

While you wait...

This can really throw a spanner in the works when it comes to work, school or family life. Not to mention the medical consequences of leaving an ACL injury untreated. If left too long, ACL injuries can lead to chronic knee problems such as ACL deficiency, which can cause your knee to buckle or give out, sometimes with pain and swelling9.

Septoplasty wait times

A septoplasty is the surgery required to fix a deviated septum, which is when the divider between your two nostrils is bent7.

SEPTOPLASTY WAIT TIMES
Royal Perth Hospital (WA): 358 days
Fiona Stanley Hospital (WA): 326 days
Royal Adelaide Hospital (SA): 349 days
Flinders Medical Centre (SA): 344 days
Royal Melbourne Hospital (Vic): 700 days
The Alfred (Vic): 262 days
Royal Prince Alfred Hospital (NSW): 145 days
Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital (Qld):
363 days
Gold Coast University Hospital (Qld):
327 days
Royal Darwin Hospital (NT): 259 days
Canberra Hospital (ACT): 476 days

While you wait...

A severely bent septum can cause regular sinus infections and breathing difficulties if not treated.

Myringoplasty/Tympanoplasty wait times

Both of these surgeries are used to repair a perforated eardrum.

Causes of perforated eardrum include head trauma, inserting a cotton bud too far, and from air pressure changes when you catch a flight3.

MYRINGOPLASTY / TYMPANOPLASTY WAIT TIMES
Royal Perth Hospital (WA): 287 days
Fiona Stanley Hospital (WA): 371 days
Royal Adelaide Hospital (SA): 421 days
Flinders Medical Centre (SA): 98 days
Royal Melbourne Hospital (Vic): 280 days
The Alfred (Vic): 132 days
Royal Prince Alfred Hospital (NSW): 280 days
Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital (Qld):
348 days
Gold Coast University Hospital (Qld):
296 days
Royal Darwin Hospital (NT): 180 days
Canberra Hospital (ACT): 590 days

 

While you wait...

If left untreated, a perforated eardrum can sometimes repair itself. But while it’s healing, you may suffer hearing loss in the affected ear4.

If you can’t hear correctly, you can’t listen and learn correctly. This means that for young kids, prolonged hearing loss can lead to trouble speaking.

A perforated eardrum is also vulnerable to infection, particularly if you get water in it. If your doctor has recommended surgery, there’s a chance of infection or complications until the eardrum is repaired.

Myringotomy wait times

A myringotomy is a surgery commonly used in a grommets procedure that relieves pressure and fluid that builds up inside the ear during an ear infection5

This one is common in kids – just like tonsillectomies – because kids under 10 years old are more likely to get ear infections.

MYRINGOTOMY WAIT TIMES
Fiona Stanley Hospital (WA): 160 days
Royal Adelaide Hospital (SA): 97 days
Flinders Medical Centre (SA): 60 days
Royal Victorian Ear and Eye Hospital (VIC): 107 days
Royal Prince Alfred Hospital (NSW): 181 days
Gold Coast University Hospital (Qld):
72 days
Royal Darwin Hospital (NT): 70 days*
Canberra Hospital (ACT): 536 days

While you wait...

Pain, trouble hearing, and a chance of re-infection can all come with an untreated ear infection6.

 
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* Peer group results by intended procedures are only presented if there were more than two hospitals that performed the surgery in the peer group.


Sources:
1 AIHW - Elective surgery (2021)
2 Mayo Clinic - Tonsilitis (2020)
3 Mayo Clinic - Ruptured eardrum (2020)
4 ENT UK - Perforated Eardrum & Myringoplasty (2017)
5 WebMD - Ear Infections: Diagnosis and Treatment (2020)
6 Healthline - How can I prevent middle ear infections? (2020)
7 Mayo Clinic - Deviated septum (2020)
8 UW Health - ACL Injury: Should I Have Knee Surgery? (2020)
9 US National Institutes of Health - Fate of the untreated anterior cruciate ligament-injured knee (2017)