The phased reintroduction of elective surgery has been welcomed by the Australian Private Hospitals Association (APHA) and its members.
After all but the most urgent elective surgery was banned in March, the National Cabinet resolved in late April to ease some of these restrictions while still ensuring measures to fight the COVID-19 pandemic remain in place.
APHA CEO Michael Roff said the return of elective surgery was an example of how well Australia and the health system had responded to the threat of the pandemic.
“Through a very intense process, we were able to achieve the viability guarantee with the Commonwealth in just five days following the initial elective surgery shutdown.
“This $1.3 billion package has brought the public and private hospital systems together to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This means private hospital capacity – including one-third of Australia’s intensive care unit beds – are now available to support Australia’s efforts to fight the virus,” he said.
Alan Morrison, CEO of Hospital and Orthopaedics at sportsmed, said his team was happy to see the return of some elective surgery.
“As an orthopaedic hospital, a lot of our patients have been in pain while they’ve been waiting for things to open up again, so we’re trying to now prioritise those patients,” he said.
A range of safety measures, including temperature checking of patients, staff and visitors, is also in place at the South Australia-based organisation.
Mr Morrison said hand hygiene had already been a priority, with the introduction last year of the BioVigil badge system.
“The badges buzz to remind staff to wash their hands, and they change colour – green meaning they’ve washed their hands,” he said.
“Our hand hygiene compliance is at 97 percent, and our patients can see if the doctor or nurse has washed their hands, so that’s very reassuring for them.”
Mr Morrison said APHA's support since the outbreak of COVID-19 had been outstanding.
“They’ve been hugely supportive of us and everyone in the membership. All our colleagues and peers have been really appreciative and I think it’s been a great collaborative time during this crisis,” he said.
The selection of patients to undergo elective surgery is a clinical one, guided by the following principles:
- Procedures representing low-risk, high-value care as determined by specialist societies
- Selection of patients who are at low risk of post-operative deterioration
- Children whose procedures have exceeded clinical wait times
- Assisted reproduction (IVF)
- Endoscopic procedures
- Screening programs
- Critical dental procedures
This first stage will require health administrators to monitor supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE), as well as Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and bed capacity.
Mr Roff said it was important to note that urgent procedures like cancer and cardiac surgery had not stopped.
“Because the public hospital system has not been overwhelmed as was originally predicted, it is now possible and safe for Australians to access a wider range of elective procedures.
“But these procedures are still restricted and private hospitals were only able to restore 25 percent of unused capacity. This means some non-urgent surgery will still be delayed until restrictions are fully lifted,” he said.
Ramsay Health Care Australia CEO Danny Sims said many people had been waiting to undergo procedures.
“We have been working with our visiting medical officers to reopen some operating theatre lists in our hospitals in line with the nationally approved guidelines.
“The government has been really clear that the return to elective surgery needs to be a gradual one as Australia works to contain the spread of COVID-19.
“With this in mind, we need to continue to ensure the safety of our patients, our doctors and hospital staff, while also monitoring our stocks of personal protective equipment,” he said.
Ramsay was being “extra vigilant” around the use of PPE and maintaining social distancing, Mr Sims added.
“While this decision to ease restrictions on elective surgery is a positive step on the road to recovery, we are also prepared to respond in any way required during the COVID-19 pandemic," he said.
“During recent weeks, it has been more important than ever to look out for one another, as we continue to provide care for those in need. Our Ramsay Way culture of ‘people caring for people’ is how we are getting through this time together.”
Epworth HealthCare Chief Executive Officer Dr Lachlan Henderson said the group's patients had been “very understanding” while waiting for surgery to resume.
“We’re really pleased we can again resume some categories of elective surgery and provide care for our private patients who have been waiting.
“We know it’s been tough for some of our patients who had their surgery delayed,” Dr Henderson said.
Epworth is continuing extra steps to keep patients, staff and doctors safe, including temperature screening of patients and visitors, and restricting visitor access.
Mr Roff said APHA was proud to have worked with members, federal and state governments, medical groups, unions and other stakeholders to ensure the Australian health system had access to the maximum capacity of hospital beds, equipment and staff.
“There have been a number of hurdles to achieve this, not least of which was a different approach from each state government in developing agreements with private hospitals.
“Private hospitals have stepped up to the plate to do their bit and be part of the fight against the virus. We will continue to be part of the health system team that keeps Australians safe through the next stages of the pandemic,” he said.