Monday, February 7, 2011

ACT Auditor-General’s Report into Waiting Lists for Elective Surgery and Medical Treatment

On 17 January, the ACT Auditor-General submitted the Performance Audit Report titled ‘Waiting Lists for Elective Surgery and Medical Treatment’ to the Legislative Assembly. 

Russell McGowan was interviewed by ABC News on the recommendations included in the recently released report on waiting lists by the ACT Auditor General. This news story is available online.

Australian Hospital Statistics for 2008-09 showed that elective surgery waiting times had worsened in the ACT. Allegations had been made about possible manipulation or mismanagement of the elective surgery waiting list and that some patients had been downgraded to lower categories.

The objective of the audit was to provide an independent opinion to the Legislative Assembly on whether:
  • information on waiting lists published by ACT Health was complete, reliable and timely;
  • ACT Health effectively managed the elective surgery policy and related systems and procedures to promote clinically appropriate, consistent and equitable treatment of patients in public hospitals; and
  • access to medical services (non-surgical) was effectively managed and timely.
The Report found waiting lists had not improved despite extra funding from the Federal and ACT governments. The Performance of ACT Health in the management of elective surgery waiting lists in the recent years was below other jurisdictions, and no improvement had been recorded for most key performance indicators over time.

The Audit acknowledged that management of the waiting lists for elective surgery and medical treatments was a complex process that could be influenced by practices of various parties within the system, including doctors, and by a number of factors, some of which were outside the control of ACT Health.

It also noted that Canberra’s public hospitals provide emergency and elective surgery to ACT residents and those in surrounding areas. As most emergency surgery was conducted at TCH, the pressure of delivering emergency surgery also impacted on the delivery of elective surgery.

The Audit found that, overall, elective surgery waiting lists were administered in the ACT within a sound framework of policies, guidelines and procedures. However, ACT Health’s implementation and monitoring processes were not managed well to deliver the intended outcomes.

From consumer perspective, the findings of the report are obviously concerning and disappointing. Obviously, it is unacceptable that some patients have not been added to waiting lists for months because of a communication failure between clinical staff and the hospital booking office, as indicated in the report.

HCCA has long advocated for a single patient administration system across The Canberra Hospital and Calvary, integrating the two hospitals’ databases to better manage waiting lists across the ACT. We welcome the fact that ACT Health is working on this and keenly await its implementation in October next year.

The Audit’s findings are timely. The ACT Health Elective Surgery Access Policy, referred to in the audit, is currently under development. HCCA recently commented on the draft policy and this Audit gives ACT Health the opportunity to further improve its policy for the benefit of consumers as well as clinical staff. The Audit is relevant for inclusion in the ACT Health Patient & Family Centred Care Discussion Paper 2011, which is also under development.

The ACT Government’s response has been positive: it has accepted the majority of all 11 recommendations and HCCA will be closely monitoring its progress in implementing them.

A full copy of the Performance Audit Report Waiting Lists for Elective Surgery and Medical Treatment, is available online (1.18Mb, 95 page document). 

Karen Jameson
Policy Officer

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