$20m plan to finally fix surgery waiting lists
OPERATING theatres will open at weekends and nights in a $20m plan to slash the backlog of 56,000 Queenslanders waiting years for surgery.
In an extraordinary move, Health Minister Steven Miles has bowed to pressure from The Sunday Mail's Operation Wait Loss campaign by today announcing the seven-day surgeries as part of a five-pronged attack on the highly clogged system.
The Minister has promised immediate action and more investment into queue-busting to come in the State Budget.
The extra money will target patients waiting for ophthalmology and ear nose and throat surgeries following The Sunday Mail's revelations that elderly patients were going blind waiting for surgery on cataracts and children were forced to survive on pureed food for months while waiting for tonsillectomies.
"Our investment will open up more outpatient clinic and surgery time and establish temporary weekend and after-hours patient clinics," Mr Miles said.
"Hospitals will be required to develop an action plan for any patient waiting longer than a new "maximum wait time" for a specialist appointment. Patients will start to benefit from the investment immediately, with those waiting for urgent appointments or surgery being treated as a priority," he said.
This dramatic breakthrough comes just a week after the Queensland Government also decided to fly 25 women from Cairns to Brisbane for breast reconstruction surgery, after Operation Wait Loss exposed the raw suffering of women waiting many years for surgery following breast cancer.
These stories, especially that of Kate Yeoman, who bravely showed her scars which she has lived with for eight years on the newspaper's front page, moved Premier Annastacia Palasczcuk.
The Premier yesterday revealed she had intervened after The Sunday-Mail exposed the women's plight.
"Having known many women going through breast cancer, it is a deeply personal and traumatic surgery for women and their families and I'm glad to see this issue has been resolved. We're putting more money into more frontline services and money into the expansion of hospitals. We know that health services are front and centre for Queenslanders," she said.
Kate Yeoman cried tears of joy when she heard of the Government's investment into easing elective surgery lists.
"This is life changing for so many, thank you to everyone who has recognised the importance of this, The Sunday Mail, both sides of the government and the public who have reached out after my very personal experience," Ms Yeoman, who is having her surgery in Cairns on April 2, said.
Ms Palasczcuk said she would also look into the case of a sick Sunshine Coast teenager who has waited more than three years to have his tonsils taken out, so he can breathe properly.
The 18-year-old's mother, Veronica Eastmure, said her son has been sent to the emergency department "again and again''.
The boy's illness had forced him to miss so much school that he failed Year 12 last year.
"I have had too many sleepless nights to recall, listening to him sleep hoping he takes that next breath,'' she said.
Ms Eastmure welcomed news of the State Government's fast-track surgery and said she hoped her son could now receive swift treatment.
"I would hate for anyone else to have to go through this,'' she said.
Australian Medical Association vice-president Dr Chris Zappala, a respiratory and thoracic specialist in Brisbane, said Queensland has enough surgeons to do the job.
"If we want to offer more surgery, then we need to run more operating lists,'' he said.
"There are surgeons immediately available and willing to operate more in public hospitals.''
Mr Miles said the demand for health care continues to rise in Queensland.
"We received the most referrals for specialist outpatient appointments than ever before over the last year," he said.
The Sunday Mail's campaign revealed that waiting times ballooned to more than a year for one in every 30 Queenslanders needing cataract surgery and one in 36 needing a hip or knee operation. It was also exposed that 156,390 patients were on a list just to see a specialist - a waiting list for a waiting list.
Queensland Health Director-General Dr John Wakefield said demand for health care is only going to continue to increase.
"We balance the need for emergency surgery and make no apologies for prioritising those patients that need time critical, life saving surgery. We will always do our best to see and treat people within clinically recommended times, and understand the frustration and uncertainty our patients feel when they are waiting for their appointment or surgery, Dr Wakefield said.
"We also understand that seeing a loved one or experiencing a health concern yourself can be challenging and impact multiple parts of your life," he said.
As part of the five-pronged plan the Queensland Government will demand that the Commonwealth makes private health insurance affordable to ease the burden on public hospitals and there will be a push to provide broad public health messaging to encourage Queenslanders to seek early medical intervention through their GP.