The number of elective surgeries performed across Australia has slumped to a 10-year low due to COVID-19.
New data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare shows there were 623,000 elective surgeries at public hospitals in the 2021/22 financial year.
The number of surgeries represented a drop of 17 per cent compared to the previous financial year and was the lowest level since 2010/11, when 627,000 were performed.
The steep decline in elective surgeries came as a result of widespread COVID-19 restrictions during the Delta waves in 2021 and the Omicron surge of early 2022.
Institute spokesman Adrian Webster said the drop in surgeries followed on from initial shutdowns of elective procedures during the early stages of the pandemic.
“This followed periodic suspensions of lower-urgency elective surgery starting from March 2020, which have aimed to help ensure the health system maintains adequate capacity during the pandemic,” he said.
“An elective surgery is medically necessary and may be urgent, but applies where the patient’s clinical condition does not require immediate care through an emergency admission.”
The biggest drop in elective surgeries during the last financial year was in NSW, which saw a 27 per cent decline, followed by WA where they fell by 23 per cent.
Tasmania bucked the national trend, being the only jurisdiction where elective surgeries increased.
About half of all patients who went in for elective surgeries at public hospitals had their procedure within 40 days.
The report also revealed a slight drop in the number of admissions to emergency departments, falling from 8.81 million in 2020/21 to 8.79 million last year.
Dr Webster said despite the pandemic, the coronavirus had reversed trends in emergency wards.
“In the five years prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, presentations to public hospital emergency departments steadily increased by an average of 3.2 per cent per year,” he said.
“However, the pandemic continued to impact the number of presentations throughout 2021/22.”
COVID-19 cases inside emergency departments peaked at 1682 cases in January 2022, which was at the height of the Omicron wave.