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Hospital wait grows longer

Tuesday, 13th May, 2008

More locals are waiting longer for surgery, according to NSW Health figures.

The number of locals waiting for surgery hit 350 in March, according to NSW Health, compared to 204 the previous month.

The average wait for surgery also increased, from 27 days to 68 days.

Murray-Darling MP John Williams said the figures were a clear indicator that the State Government was unable to properly manage the public health system.

The NSW hospital waiting list rose to almost 59,000, the highest level in three years.

"Under the current State Government, there are now more people waiting for surgery in NSW than at any other time during the last three years," Mr Williams said.

"That is unacceptable and the trend must be reversed."

But NSW Health Minister Reba Meagher yesterday rejected claims of a sharp rise in hospital waiting list numbers, saying the length of time waiting is more important.

Ms Meagher said it was not the volume of patients on the list, but how long those people had been waiting for surgery that was important.

She also says it is natural that the number of people awaiting surgery will rise while the population grows and ages.

"It's not the number that's important, it's how long people wait based on the clinical recommendations of their treating physician," Ms Meagher told reporters.

"We've been able to demonstrate that with the cooperation of our doctors and nurses over the last couple of years, we've been able to drive those lists down to almost zero."

However, Ms Meagher admitted that the number of patients waiting more than 12 months for elective surgery had increased from 66 last year to 255 in March this year.

But she said this was due to an early Easter, with the hospital system "gearing down" around public holidays.

"We expect to make that up over the coming months."

Opposition health spokeswoman Jillian Skinner said waiting lists had risen since Ms Meagher became health minister in March last year.

She said waiting lists were now at the highest level since December 2005.

"Since Reba Meagher became health minister, 55 people have joined the public hospital waiting list every week," Mrs Skinner told reporters.

She said if Prime Minister Kevin Rudd raised the Medicare levy surcharge threshold in tomorrow's federal budget the situation would be compounded.

The federal government says the budget will double the income threshold at which singles must pay the surcharge - from $50,000 to $100,000 - while the threshold for couples will rise from $100,000 to $150,000.

Mrs Skinner said it was estimated this would result in 400,000 people opting out of their private health cover, which would equate to about 140,000 people in NSW.Those people would then be reliant on the public health system, which was already trying to cope with current demand, she said.

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