Ballarat Health Services colonoscopy wait lists surge, state opposition calls for lists to be made public

The number of people ready and waiting for colonoscopy procedures at Ballarat Health Services over the last two years has jumped.

Freedom of Information documents obtained by the state opposition show that 588 patients were waiting for a colonoscopy and ready for care at February 2 this year, an increase of more than 32 percent since 2016.

The average wait time for those ready to have their procedure is 71.3 days. 

Bowel cancer caused the second highest number of cancer deaths in Australia last year, but if caught early, 90 percent of cases can be successfully treated.

Shadow Assistant Minister for Health Margaret Fitzherbert called for colonoscopy waiting lists to be made public during a visit to Ballarat yesterday.

But Victorian Minister for Health Jill Hennessy has said the spike in waiting list times is the result of the increased nationwide screening program for bowel cancer.

Ballarat Health Services in one of 19 public health services providing access to colonoscopies within 30 days for those referred from the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program (NBCSP). 

Ms Fitzherbert said it was “alarming” that the state government wasn’t monitoring waiting lists for colonoscopies, as revealed by FOI documents. 

“Our position is that we’ll make waiting lists public, because we think that it’s important we report of colonoscopy waiting lists in the same way we report on other health procedures,” she said.

“I think what gets measured gets done, and we need that sort of scrutiny to see that people are getting the resources when they really need them.”

The FOI documents also showed that colonoscopies as part of the NBCSP, as a proportion of all colonoscopies undertaken in Australia, were expected to jump from three per cent in 2012-13 to 9 per cent in 2020-21. 

Ms Hennessy said that the numbers reflect that demand has simply increased since the uptake of the national program. 

In April, the state government announced an additional $12 million for Victorian hospitals to cut wait times for colonoscopies. At the time, for 6,635 patients across Victoria were in the most urgent category.

“Generally we know we’ve got an aging community, we want people to be screened for bowel cancer,” Ms Hennessy said. 

“But it’s also important that state and federal governments invest in the back end so the support can be in place so the most urgent of cases are being seen quickly.”

Ballarat-based Victorian Liberal MP Joshua Morris said that the waiting lists not being published meant the public doesn’t understand where there may be able to access colonoscopy services sooner.