WA Health system

Elective surgery

What is elective surgery?

Elective surgery is a term used for non-emergency surgery which is medically necessary, but can be delayed for at least 24 hours.

People who need emergency treatment will not be placed on the elective surgery list.

Elective surgery is usually performed in an operating theatre or procedure room under some form of anaesthesia by a surgeon.

Elective surgery is different to cosmetic surgery, which is not performed in public hospitals.

How do I have elective surgery in WA public hospitals?

The first step is to be assessed by a medical specialist. The specialist will categorise your case depending on medical need.

There are 3 clinical categories for classifying patients for surgery. Patients with the most urgent medical need (Category 1 – urgent) will be scheduled for surgery first.

Table 1: Categories for elective surgery
Category Clinical description Desirable waiting time
Category 1 – Urgent
  • Has the potential to deteriorate quickly to the point where it may become an emergency
Admission within 30 days
Category 2 –
  • Causes pain, dysfunction or disability
  • Unlikely to deteriorate quickly
  • Unlikely to become an emergency
Admission within 90 days
Category 3 –
  • Causes pain, dysfunction or disability
  • Unlikely to deteriorate quickly
  • Does not have the potential to become an emergency
Admission within 365 days

Once you have been assessed by a medical specialist you will be placed on the elective surgery waiting list.

Your case will then be assigned to a public hospital and scheduled in order of registration and clinical urgency.

You will receive a letter telling you of your waiting list status, including the name of the public hospital and the doctor who will perform the surgery. You will be notified by telephone or mail when a date for your elective surgery has been scheduled.

Although public hospitals make every attempt to meet these timelines, hospitals must give priority to emergency patients who require a hospital bed.

Responsibilities of the WA health system

We will:

  • ensure you are referred to an appropriately qualified doctor
  • notify you in writing of your placement on the waiting list within 5 days of being placed on the list
  • notify you by telephone or mail when your operation date is scheduled
  • contact you if you have not had your surgery on time
  • organise the shortest waiting time for your surgery at a public hospital
  • ensure you GP has information about the referral processes, waiting times and best management for your condition
  • provide surgery on the booked date and not cancel your admission on more than two occasions without good cause.

Your responsibilities as an elective surgery patient

As a patient on the elective surgery waiting list, you must:

  • follow the procedures and advice given to you by the hospital, including information on how to stay as fit and well as possible for surgery
  • advise the hospital of your acceptance of a proposed admission date when provided
  • attend any pre-admission clinics arranged for you
  • attend the hospital on the confirmed admission date
  • attend any follow-up appointments after your operation.

It is WA Health policy that if you are offered a date for your operation and you decline on two different occasions, you will be removed from the waiting list, except in extenuating circumstances.

You must let the hospital know if:

  • you no longer wish to have the surgery
  • any medical or personal circumstances change that may lead to the need to cancel or defer your surgery
  • you are on another public hospital waiting list for a different elective surgery procedure.

Failure to attend a scheduled appointment without prior notice and without a good reason may result in you being taken off the elective surgery waiting list and not being offered the surgery.

In this situation, you will be advised in writing that you have been removed from the waiting list. If you feel that a misunderstanding has occurred, you will need to call the hospital contact person listed in letter you received.

Talk to your GP

It is important to keep your regular appointments with your GP while waiting for your surgery. Your GP will:

  • keep you fit and well while waiting for surgery
  • help make contact with the hospital if there is any change in your condition while you are waiting for surgery.

Unless you tell us otherwise in writing, information about your care and management will be shared with your GP while you are waiting for treatment, and after your surgery.

Translated information about elective surgery

Some information is also available in other languages.

Arabic – Elective Surgery Patient Information (PDF 123KB)

Chinese simplified
Chinese Simplified – Elective Surgery Patient Information (PDF 71KB)

Chinese traditional
Chinese Traditional – Elective Surgery Patient Information (PDF 92KB)

Croatian – Elective Surgery Patient Information (PDF 97KB)

Greek – Elective Surgery Patient Information (PDF 106KB)

Bahasa Indonesian
Indonesian – Elective Surgery Patient Information (PDF 23KB)

Italian - Italiano
Italian – Elective Surgery Patient Information (PDF 23KB)

Korean – Elective Surgery Patient Information (PDF 147KB)

Serbian – Elective Surgery Patient Information (PDF 108KB)

Spanish - Espanol
Spanish – Elective Surgery Patient Information (PDF 25KB)

Thai – Elective Surgery Patient Information (PDF 111KB)

Vietnamese – Elective Surgery Patient Information (PDF 114KB)

Enquiries and complaints

If you feel that your condition has changed or become worse since being placed on a waitlist for elective surgery, you should discuss this with your GP.

If you wish to make an enquiry about your elective procedure, including the expected waiting time, you should contact the patient liaison service for the hospital at which you are waitlisted or booked to have your procedure.

Contact details for other public hospitals and health services can be found by using the National Health Services Directory.

Other complaints or compliments

WA Health welcomes opinions and comments from the public. Compliments and complaints help us to address problem areas and to give credit to our staff when it is due.


  • There are varying waiting times for elective surgery at WA public hospitals.
  • Your GP can help you through the elective surgery process.

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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