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  • Overdue surgery list slashed but COVID hangover lingers

    Author: AAP

Elective surgery lists have markedly improved for patients across NSW but doctors don't believe the progress can be sustained with people still waiting far longer than before the COVID-19 pandemic.

The state government credits a surgical task force in bringing the overtime waitlist for planned surgeries down 85 per cent since the expert group was established in late 2023.

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Premier Chris Minns on Thursday said the figures were encouraging after the number of people overdue for planned surgery in recent years exploded, mainly due to widespread suspensions of elective procedures during the pandemic.

"The overdue waitlist used to number 14,000 ... it's down to about 2000," he told reporters.

The numbers refer to patients waiting longer than the clinically recommended maximum 30 days for urgent surgery, 90 for semi-urgent surgery and 365 for non-urgent surgery.

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Australian Medical Association NSW president Michael Bonning said doctors in NSW have worked incredibly hard to reduce the backlog of non-planned surgery.

"However, this was achieved using funding in the 2022-23 budget which expired on December 31," he told AAP.

"We do not believe that it will be possible to maintain this level of performance given the NSW Health Budget suffered an effective eight per cent cut in September."

The expert team, employed to identify and implement ways to make the system run more efficiently, found some common or high-volume procedures were unnecessarily undertaken with a one-night stay.

Tweaks included making hernia repair, gall bladder removal and surgeries on sinuses and deviated septums same-day procedures by default.

Health Minister Ryan Park credited the use of different models of care, including same-day surgery, extending the hours of operating theatres and partnerships with private hospitals, in bringing the numbers down.

"We've still got a lot of work to do ... the job is far from finished," he said.

Mr Park said the government would also look to apply lessons learned from the task force to emergency departments.

Nearly 84 per cent of elective surgeries were performed on time between October and December 2023, up from less than 77 per cent a year earlier.

But the figure remained well down on pre-pandemic figures, with nearly 96 per cent of the procedures done on time in late 2019.

Median wait times for all categories of elective surgery also remain higher.

There were 88,618 patients on the surgery waiting list at the end of December 2023 - down 10.7 per cent from the same quarter the previous year and similar to levels before COVID-19.

Cutting elective surgery wait times was one of the key pledges from the Minns government prior to the NSW election.

The formation of the task force was one of Mr Park's first decisions as health minister in March.

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