'You're dead before you get to see the specialist'
It’s the hidden list you could die waiting on.
Thousands of people are booked in for appointments with specialists at hospital outpatient clinics but are languishing on a waiting list for over a year to be seen.
Todd Orton, of South Penrith, was having stomach issues last year and saw his GP who referred him to a gastroenterologist at Nepean’s outpatient clinic.
But the hospital wrote to the 46-year-old warning him of the lengthy wait.
“Unfortunately there is a high demand for appointments at the Gastroenterology Clinic and the current waiting time is approximately 12 months,” the letter read.
“Patients are triaged on medical need and urgent cases will be prioritised.”
Rather than offering a hospital contact, should his condition worsen, Mr Orton was advised to contact his local GP instead.
Mr Orton is just one of thousands with a freedom of information application revealing that as of April 15 this year, there were 7522 people with appointments to see an oncologist.
Timing is critical in treating cancer, but the hospital couldn’t say what the average wait time was.
While far fewer people were waiting to see a specialist in neurosurgery – 285 – the average wait time is almost nine months.
Patients waiting to see a diabetes specialist had the shortest wait times of two weeks according to the hospital.
Those needing an ear, nose and throat specialist are waiting more than five months.
The hospital told 9News the average wait time for orthopaedics was more than six months, for vascular six months, and for gastroenterology four and a half months.
But Mr Orton’s case shows the estimated wait times are far shorter than the reality.
Despite numerous health issues, Mr Orton considers himself lucky and worries about patients that may have a cancer growing undetected for 12 months.
“Imagine if I had an underlying cancer? You’re dead before you get to see the specialist,” he told 9News.
“Many people will die waiting.”
Receiving a letter saying he had to wait 12 months left Mr Orton concerned.
“It makes you worry,” he said.
“I wasn’t very well at all.”
He said the system was completely broken.
Mr Orton, it turned out, suffered a bad case of sleep apnoea which had been causing some of his stomach issues.
That was diagnosed by a different doctor and Mr Orton cancelled his specialist appointment at Nepean earlier this year. His appointment was booked last August.
Professor Hal Swerissen, fellow at the health program, Grattan Institute says patients risk getting sicker as they wait for these appointments, with the situation at Nepean a snapshot of the broader problem.
Worst case scenario is patients end up with adverse outcomes, delayed surgery and spend long periods of time in pain and distress.
A significant problem was the high costs of specialists many patients could not afford.
© Nine Digital Pty Ltd 2019