Cancer patients are more likely to face extended waits for potentially life-saving surgery at a small number of public hospitals across Australia, according to a new report.
The new National Health Performance Authority report shows that across the country, the vast majority (92%) of patients in 2012–13 needing surgery for malignant breast, bowel or lung cancer were treated within 30 days. Almost all (97%) had their operations within 45 days.
However, some patients faced longer waits at a small number of hospitals. Across the three types of cancer surgery, five public hospitals took up to 60 days, two up to 75 days and three up to 90 days before at least 90% of their patients received their surgeries.
Hospital remoteness did not significantly impact waiting times, with regional and city hospital patients experiencing similar median waiting times (the time it took for 50% of patients to receive their surgery) for all three types of cancer surgery.
The percentage of patients who received surgery within 30 days for malignant bowel cancer was 88%, 90% for malignant lung cancer and 96% for malignant breast cancer. At the hospitals which completed at least 10 or more surgeries for each cancer type:
Bowel cancer patients waiting for surgery were most prone to longer waits. Of the 4,362 surgeries for malignant bowel cancer across 89 major and large public hospitals – 82 hospitals treated at least 90% of patients within 45 days. However, seven hospitals took longer than that, including Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane and the Royal Hobart Hospital, which both took between 76 and 90 days
Of the 1,012 malignant lung cancer surgeries across 29 major public hospitals – 27 hospitals treated at least 90% of patients within 45 days. However, two hospitals took longer than that
Breast cancer patients waiting for surgery were least prone to longer waits. Of the 7,553 surgeries for malignant breast cancer across 86 major and large public hospitals – 85 hospitals treated at least 90% of patients within 45 days. However, one hospital took longer than that.
The report shows that 12,669 (92%) of the 13,697 patients who received surgery for malignant bowel, breast or lung cancer at an Australian public hospital in 2012–13 received their surgery within 30 days, and 13,351 within 45 days.
However, 216 bowel cancer patients nationally waited longer than 45 days for their surgeries, compared to 102 breast cancer patients and 28 lung cancer patients.
National Health Performance Authority CEO Dr Diane Watson said that while the vast majority of patients waited no longer than 30 days for their cancer surgery, there were some hospitals where patients faced longer waits and today's report provides an opportunity to identify where improvements can be made.
'Hospitals can use this report to help target improvements and learn from others that have shorter cancer surgery waiting times," Dr Watson said.
Malignant breast, bowel and lung cancer are three of the most common cancers for which surgery is a key component of treatment. All governments agreed the National Health Performance Authority would report on waiting times for cancer care.
In Australia, surgeries to treat malignant cancers are prioritised using the same urgency categories as used for other planned surgeries.
Hospitals are allocated in the report into peer groups according to size, location and number of surgeries, to enable fair comparisons.
Hospital Performance: Cancer surgery waiting times in public hospitals in 2012–13 is the first report to be launched on the newly expanded and improved MyHospitals website (www.myhospitals.gov.au) – which includes performance information for more than 1,000 hospitals. New features on the website include improved hospital comparability, search functionality and a clearer layout that makes it easier for patients, clinicians and others to find the information they need.