It has been a torrid time in healthcare. Medical staff were redeployed, and all focus has been on the ongoing battle with COVID-19. The decision to move team members was founded in common sense. Lives needed to be saved, and the virus controlled quickly, so people’s livelihoods could also be spared. Equally, to bring people into hospital for surgeries that could make them vulnerable to an aggressive illness would have been counter to all ethical standards.
The Australian public has achieved much in their efforts to stem the tide of infection. Although 6600 confirmed cases across the country and 71 deaths is a tragic toll, it is nowhere near the numbers and the ongoing complexities experienced by other countries. On May 15, Western Australia’s hospitals reported no cases of COVID-19, and other states hope to be close behind.
Consequently, decisions can begin to be made to allow a small return to business as usual in hospitals. The Government are keen to stress, via the Chief Medical Officer Dr Brendan Murphy, that suppression and elimination strategies must continue. However, the country’s success so far means that the Reff number is below one and so adaptations can be made. PPE stocks and ventilators mostly sufficient to meet expected demand through to December 2020, with current social distancing and travel restriction strategies in place.
With such a stable situation achieved, continuing to delay elective surgeries is no longer necessary. Indeed, it was felt that the continued cancellation of medical treatment could lead to worsening health outcomes, increased anxiety, and a reduction in productivity for those involved. Indeed, for patients awaiting care for serious conditions such as cancer, the wait must have been torture. In short, the national success in passing the peak of the virus has meant that all Category 2 procedures and necessary Category 3 procedures could recommence.
Since 22nd April, hospitals have been able to offer IVF, screening programs, post-cancer reconstruction procedures, all procedures for those under 18 years of age, joint replacements, cataracts and eye procedures and endoscopy and colonoscopy procedures. Any PPE stock needed for these elective surgeries cannot be taken from the National Medical Stockpile.
All medical professionals want these elective procedures to continue only if it is safe to do so. The Government have promised to re-evaluate and offer a gradual opening of surgery opening lists. Some states were given the flexibility to work within this general framework, depending on the situation in each context. It is hoped that further surgeries can be added over time, and the volume of procedures will increase.
Such moves are not only good news for patients, whose lives have likely been on hold while the pandemic travelled its course. It is also good news for our nurses and doctors, who can go back to specialisms and areas of expertise. They should also acknowledge that they have undertaken a heroic role, on the frontline of a massive battle, but now they can help all those who need medical care.
We must take a moment to thank our frontline medical professionals for what they have done for us. However, we should also remember the vital work they continue to do to help Australians live a happy and fruitful life free of illness.