'Long waits' for Qld specialists increase

Patients in Queensland are waiting longer than clinically recommended to see medical specialists as a "growing and ageing" population increases demand on the state's public health system, a report says.

A total of $595 million has been spent since 2015 on a government strategy to address long wait times, defined as delays beyond those clinically recommended, and difficulties for GPs to get patients referrals efficiently.

"Queensland Health halved long waits in the first three years but increasing demand means the number of long waits for non-urgent cases has increased steadily since 2017," a Queensland Auditor-General's report released on Monday says.

From July 2017 to July 2020, the total number of patients waiting longer than recommended increased by 72 per cent.

"There was a 12 per cent decrease in 2020-21, likely due to the impact of the temporary halt in accepting some category two and all category three referrals from March-May 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic," the report says.

As of July 2021, there were 230,120 patients waiting for a first appointment, but only eight per cent of these were in the "urgent" category one.

"This indicates that most urgent cases are seen within time," the report says.

A total of 82 per cent of category one specialist outpatients were seen within the recommended time in 2020-21, against a target of 83 per cent.

Opposition Leader David Crisafulli said despite having seven years to fix the problem, the issue had gotten worse under the current government.

"This can't be another auditor-general's report that gets swept aside," he said.

"At a time when Queensland Heath is in crisis, every suggestion to improve it must be taken on board."

Some specialties are managing a statewide shortage of clinicians, with public and private health sectors competing for "scarce resources", the report says.

Clinical specialties with the highest number of "long waits" are orthopaedics, ophthalmology and gastroenterology.

Close to 80 per cent of the Specialist Outpatient Strategy funding was used for additional specialist appointments to reduce long waits.

The audit examined whether the Queensland Health strategy has improved access to specialised services and reduced the wait list.

While new information systems have improved the management and tracking of patient referrals, the report notes a low uptake of the "smart referral" system.

Further engagement with GPs to improve the uptake of smart referrals and initiatives to stream "non-urgent referrals" to alternate pathways are among the report's recommendations.