Orthopaedic surgeons in Australia are being denied access to operating theatres in public hospitals and waiting times for surgery are blowing out as a result, a leading doctors group claimed today.

A survey of 550 orthopaedic surgeons carried out by the Australian Society of Orthopaedic Surgeons found that Australian orthopaedic surgeons were willing and able to operate another 80,000 to 120,000 hours a year in public hospitals, if they could get the theatre time.

The survey found that orthopaedic surgeons had, on average, access to only five hours operating theatre time a week in public hospitals, but wanted, on average, eight hours a week.

National Chairman of the Australian Society of Orthopaedic Surgeons, Dr John Harrison, said today that the situation was a “disgrace”.

“We have the equivalent of 300 extra orthopaedic surgeons who are ready and willing to operate in public hospitals but who can’t get access to operating theatres in the public hospital system. If they could, they could drastically cut the waiting times for orthopaedic surgery.

“But there is not enough money to open the operating theatres and whenever there is a crisis in hospital funding – which there is every day – elective surgery is always the first service to be cut back.

“There is an abundance of good orthopaedic surgeons in Australia. What is restricted is access to operating theatres.

“There is actually an oversupply of surgeons in the public hospital system. The health dollar is not reaching the operating theatres,” said Dr Harrison.

The survey also found that 70 per cent of orthopaedic surgeons believed that conditions for treating public patients in the public hospital system had got worse over the past 12 months and had been poor before then.

Half of the surgeons said that conditions had become more difficult over the past 12 months and 20 per cent said conditions had become very difficult. 29 per cent of surgeons said conditions were unchanged (but had already been difficult).