Your general practitioner (GP) usually determines what medical treatment you need to manage your condition and symptoms. They will provide you with the appropriate medication, organise tests, refer you to allied healthcare (e.g. physiotherapist, dietitian) and/or other non-specialist treatments as required.
If your GP decides you need to see a medical specialist for an opinion, you will have the option of being referred to a public or private medical specialist. In the public system, the GP will send a referral letter about your condition and treatment to the nearest hospital that has the resources to manage your condition.
Outpatient wait list
The GP referral letter will be reviewed and assessed by the hospital. If the referral is accepted, you will be put on an outpatient wait list to see a specialist. A specialist at the hospital will prioritise your need for a consultation and allocate you an outpatient urgency category.
In Queensland, there are 3 outpatient urgency categories with recommended timeframes for consultation:
- Urgent (Category 1) – specialist consultation recommended within 30 days of being added to the outpatient wait list
- Semi-urgent (Category 2) – specialist consultation recommended within 90 days of being added to the outpatient wait list
- Non-urgent (Category 3) – specialist consultation recommended within 365 days of being added to the outpatient wait list.
Wait times for initial outpatient appointments vary between hospitals. Ask the specialist outpatient clinic about their wait times.
Once a specialist has seen you, they will have a better idea about your health and will determine if you will benefit from surgery. The specialist may require you to have some additional tests before they make a final decision. Once the decision for surgery has been made, you will be allocated your elective surgery urgency category by your specialist.
Elective surgery wait list
Elective surgery is planned surgery that can be booked in advance. Operations are classified into groups known as ‘specialties’ according to the body part that is being treated or the branch of medicine that a surgeon specialises in. A medical specialist is a doctor who has completed advanced education and clinical training in a specialty area of medicine.
To have surgery in a public Queensland hospital you need to be:
- assessed by a medical specialist as being able to benefit from surgery
- willing to consent to surgery
- ready for surgery.
The urgency category is the clinically recommended time within which you should have elective surgery. You are prioritised for surgery by your specialist, based on your health condition and symptoms.
In Australia, there are 3 national categories:
- Urgent (Category 1)—surgery recommended within 30 days of being added to the wait list
- Semi-urgent (Category 2)—surgery recommended within 90 days of being added to the wait list
- Non-urgent (Category 3)—surgery recommended within 365 days of being added to the wait list.
For more information about your specific category, ask your medical specialist.
Once you are added to the wait list, the hospital will send you and your GP a letter. This letter will tell you what urgency category you have been assigned and the date you were added to the elective surgery wait list. If you do not receive this, you should ask your GP to follow up.
The hospital will contact you to confirm the date of your surgery. If you are in category 2 or 3, this is approximately 4 weeks prior to your proposed surgery date. If you are nearing the end of the clinically recommended time for your urgency category and have not heard from the hospital, you should contact the hospital using the number on the letter you received.
Once you have been given your surgery date, the hospital will send you a questionnaire to assess if you are ready to have surgery. You must send this back to the hospital before your surgery date. If your questionnaire responses highlight any concerns, you may be asked to go to the hospital for further discussion and/or tests.
If you are ready for surgery, you should follow the pre-surgery instructions given to you by your specialist and attend the hospital to have the surgery performed.
Ready for surgery
Being ready for surgery means you are prepared to be admitted to hospital and have had any tests or procedures needed before your surgery. There are 3 reasons you may not be ready:
- staged: you have undergone surgery or some other procedure/ treatment and are waiting for follow-up surgery that needs to occur at a particular, known time in the future (eg: you had surgery to remove a bladder tumour and need to have a check cystoscopy in 6 months’ time)
- clinical: you have a medical condition that requires treatment or management before you are ready for surgery (e.g. you have poorly controlled diabetes which needs to be managed first).
- personal: you choose to delay surgery for personal reasons, such as work or family commitments (need to organise someone to care for your children while you are in hospital). You will not be added to the elective surgery wait list until your personal circumstances change.
If you are not ready for surgery, there are maximum time periods that you will be able to remain on an wait list before you will be offered a date for surgery. This is to ensure your safety and that you receive your surgery within the clinically recommended time.
Cancel or delay surgery
If you need to cancel or defer your surgery at any stage, please contact the hospital using the number on the letter you received.
If your condition changes
If you believe your medical condition has changed, see your GP and ask them to re-assess you. If they agree your medical condition has changed, they will write to the hospital and ask them to review your urgency category.
Travel and accommodation costs
If you need to travel to have surgery, you can apply for assistance under the Patient Travel Subsidy Scheme.
In Queensland’s public health system, you are not able to choose which specialist or surgeon you see. If you would like to see a particular specialist or go to a hospital of your choice, you will need to do this as a private patient.
If you ask your GP to refer you to a private specialist, this means you are responsible for paying all costs incurred. This can be paid for directly or through your private health insurance.
If your private specialist recommends surgery, but you are unable to do this as a private patient, you will need to be referred to the public outpatient wait list to see a medical specialist for an opinion. You will not be added to the elective surgery wait list until you are assessed by a public medical specialist and it is decided you will benefit from surgery.
Change of address
You must tell the hospital if there is a change to any of your contact details.
If you permanently relocate to another state or territory, you need to arrange to have your name added to the surgery wait list in your new town, and advise the hospital where you are currently waiting for surgery that you have moved.
If you have moved within Queensland since being added to the elective surgery wait list, you will be transferred to a wait list at a hospital that is closer to where you live if:
- you are a semi-urgent (category 2) or non-urgent (category 3) urgency category
- you have moved more than 50 km from the hospital where you are currently waitlisted. All hospitals manage their own surgery wait list. It takes time and resources to transfer people from one wait list to another and for this reason, we will only arrange for patients to be transferred if there is good reason to do so. You may be asked to provide proof of your address change to the hospital that accepts you on to their wait list; and
- a public hospital close to your new home offers the surgery you need. Each hospital has surgeons with different skills and different equipment. Unless there is a public hospital with the right staff and equipment to perform your surgery we cannot transfer you to a wait list at this hospital.
If you have any questions, you can call 13 HEALTH (13 43 25 84) 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Hearing impaired callers can contact us through the National Relay Service.