The hospital system was already running dangerously close to capacity before the COVID crisis and is ill-prepared for what will happen when restrictions are eased, according to a leading doctors’ group.
The Australian Medical Association (AMA) has written to Prime Minister Scott Morrison and all the state premiers and chief ministers, telling them that our hospitals, and the people who need them and work in them, are in danger of being locked into a permanent cycle of crisis.
During the NSW daily press briefing on Wednesday, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian refused to provide details on modelling that showed the worst case scenarios for the NSW health system.
AMA president Dr Omar Khorshid said having access to all the modelling regarding the full impact of the decision to ‘live with COVID-19’ was vital for hospitals to prepare and understand the capacity required.
Dr Khorshid’s letter said our hospital system is not ready to cope with an easing of restrictions – even with increased vaccination rates.
“Even pre-COVID, emergency departments were full, ambulances ramped, and waiting times for elective surgery too long,” he said.
“While national cabinet is considering the cost of expanding intensive care capacity for an expected COVID surge, a funding top-up alone won’t cut it. The Commonwealth will need to address the longer-term public hospital funding crisis.
“We must urgently prepare our health system before opening up, and to do that we need new modelling based on our hospitals’ ability to cope with the associated increase in caseload,” Dr Khorshid said.
“This modelling should contemplate all aspects of the impact of COVID-19 on our hospitals and primary care sector. Staffing, for instance, is already a significant problem right across the health sector, exacerbated by international border closures.
“Modelling should also contemplate the cost, efficiency impact and supply of enhanced PPE and infection controls, and the inevitable reduction in patient throughput, especially where COVID-19 positive and negative patients are treated at the same facility.”
Dr Khorshid also reiterated his request for the mandatory vaccination for all employees and contractors working in hospitals and community health settings, explaining that the practice of furloughing staff exposed to COVID-19 won’t be sustainable once caseloads increase.
Crucially, Dr Khorshid said modelling may also show a higher level of community vaccination is required to ensure the hospital sector remains functional once restrictions are fully eased.
“The AMA believes a vaccination rate higher than 80 per cent of the adult population is likely to be required to avoid repeated lockdowns given the existing constraints on hospital capacity and staffing.
“If we throw open the doors to COVID, we risk seeing our public hospitals collapse and part of this stems from a long-term lack of investment in public hospital capacity by state and federal governments,” Dr Khorshid said.
“Our hospitals are not starting from a position of strength. Far from it. As well as ambulance ramping, we have the lowest bed-to-patient ratio in decades, our emergency and elective performance continues to decline, and our doctors and nurses continue to barely cope with their workloads and the constraints of the system.
“The AMA is calling for national cabinet to urgently commit the necessary funding to prepare our hospitals,” he said.
“Without a commitment to a new reform agreement – one that provides the increased beds, the extra staff, addresses avoidable admissions and readmissions and supports performance improvement – we will lock our hospitals and those who need them into a permanent cycle of crisis.
“Too often we hear tragic stories of late-stage cancer diagnosis, emergency treatment delayed and, sadly, avoidable deaths all resulting from an overworked system. This is only going to get worse with COVID, and we cannot afford to wait any longer,” Dr Khorshid said.
Are you worried about how our hospital system will cope with an easing of restrictions? Are you on an elective surgery waiting list? Do you fear that the easing of restrictions will mean you have to wait longer for your surgery? Why not share your thoughts in the comments section below?
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