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Public patients wait eight months to see specialists

West Australians wait on average eight months longer to see a specialist for surgery in the public hospital system compared with those who go private, new figures reveal.

The analysis by WA’s biggest health insurer HBF shows the biggest delay is not in the time people spend on the public elective surgery waiting list but the time it takes to be assessed — the so-called “waiting to wait” list.

The report draws on government figures and newly obtained private hospital data from Ramsay Health Care, which surveyed 50 specialists across WA, and St John of God Health Care, based on more than 48,000 hospital admissions.

It shows patients on the public elective surgery list wait an average of 34 days for their surgery, similar to the time in private hospitals where the wait is two to four weeks from the time patients are booked.

But while private patients wait only two to three weeks from the date of their referral to see a specialist, public patients wait on average almost nine months.

At the end of last year, almost 80,000 people were waiting for their first appointment with a specialist in public hospitals.

HBF said it was the first picture of total waiting times — from the time patients first see their GP about a complaint to the time they have their operation.

Chief executive John Van Der Wielen said WA’s public health system’s emergency services worked well and its infrastructure was world-class.

“While it’s no secret the main advantage of private health care is the ability to choose a surgeon and to see them relatively quickly, current reporting makes it unclear just how much more quickly,” he said.

As more people dropped their private cover because they could not afford it, greater pressure was put on the public system, Mr Van Der Wielen said.

Health Minister Roger Cook said the wait times for out-patient appointments used by HBF related only to the median, across select clinics and hospitals.

Mr Cook said the private system did not provide the range and complexity of services delivered by the public system, such as emergency care.

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