Elective Surgery Waiting Times

Below is an explanation of how waiting lists work and how to find out how long the waiting list is at different hospitals.

Private patient:

  • The time you will wait depends on the availability of the specialist you have chosen.
  • You can choose another specialist who may be able to see you sooner but you will need to go back to your GP for a new referral.
  • It is a good idea to call some specialists’ rooms prior to getting a referral from your GP to gauge availability (and cost). Alternatively you can ask your GP for a list of specialists to try. Or use one of these websites:
  • Even if you have researched which specialist you would like to see, you will still need a referral from your GP in order to be seen and have some of the cost covered by Medicare.

Public patient:

  • Emergency surgery
    • Surgery for life threatening or urgent conditions will be performed as soon as the hospital has the resources available.
    • Types of emergency surgery could include appendicitis, trauma, pneumothorax, ectopic pregnancy, subarachnoid haemorrhage (bleeding on the brain), and other conditions that require urgent attention.
  • Elective surgery
    • Refers to any non-urgent procedures where you have time to plan prior to the treatment. It does not mean that the procedure is any less important for your health, it just means that treatment is less time sensitive than for emergency procedures.
    • Firstly, you will be put on a waitlist to see the specialist in an out-patient clinic. This may be after referral from your GP, the hospital emergency department, or another specialist. The urgency of your condition will determine the timeframe.
    • Secondly, after seeing the specialist they will assign you to a category. You and your referring GP will be notified which category you have been assigned.
      • Category 1: surgery recommended within 30 days (urgent)
      • Category 2: surgery recommended within 90 days (semi-urgent)
      • Category 3: surgery recommended within 365 days (non-urgent)
    • You can use My Hospitals to see a guide of waiting times by urgency category for elective surgery at public hospitals across Australia. It will show the percentage of patients who received their treatment within the recommended timeframe. This will give you an idea of how likely you are to wait longer than the timeframe you have been assigned.

What to do if the wait time is too long for you:

  • Public hospitals are very busy, and this is why they need to prioritise treatment order by urgency.
  • If you believe your condition has worsened since you were allocated a category you may ask to be seen again and have this reviewed.
  • If there is another nearby public hospital with shorter wait times, it might be possible to have your GP refer you to them.
  • Alternatively, you may consider paying privately to see a specialist. Especially if your medical condition/urgency category is not urgent, but your needs to get back to work or perform other daily activities is urgent.



  • National guide to waiting lists


  • Elective surgery waiting lists


  • Parliament of Australia explains waiting lists


  • View a guide of expected wait times in Victoria


  • Bupa explains waiting lists