WA's Health Department has confirmed some elective surgery at public hospitals will be postponed for a month to cope with increasing pressure on the system, despite the lack of COVID-19 in the community. The halt on non-urgent elective surgeries will last one month and the Health Department has apologised for the disruption caused. Doctors have warned WA's hospitals could not cope with a COVID outbreak
No metropolitan public hospital will take further bookings for multi-day non-urgent category two and three elective surgeries from Wednesday. Bunbury and Geraldton hospitals are also affected, as well as public-private facilities in Perth. In a statement, the Health Department said all urgent category one and two surgeries would go ahead as normal. "Same-day and procedure room surgery will continue but may be rescheduled based on hospital demand, and Category 2 multi-day cases already booked would be reviewed by the hospital and proceed only if urgent," a spokesperson said.
The department said it regretted any temporary disruption for patients affected by the change.
WA not ready for COVID: AMA?
But the WA president of the Australian Medical Association, Mark Duncan-Smith, said it was a concern surgeries were being put off in a community without COVID-19.
"Ramping has been increasing by a thousand hours per month per year for the last four years," he said. "When the McGowan government took over in 2017 it was 1,000 hours a month and it's now up to 6,000 hours a month … it's just been increasing steadily. This isn't recent demand and the medical system is on its knees."
He said the hospital system would not cope if there was a COVID-19 outbreak in WA. "We would be in large amounts of trouble because there's no capacity in the system because of chronic underfunding over the last four years," he said.
Only non-urgent surgeries impacted
Health Minister Roger Cook rejected suggestions WA could not cope with a COVID-19 outbreak, saying the situation would change drastically in hospitals if the virus was in the community because fewer people would attend emergency departments. Mr Cook could not say how many surgeries would be cancelled, but said it would be less than the previous occasions elective surgeries were cancelled because of coronavirus outbreaks.
Those circumstances resulted in between 600 and 800 cancelled operations per month, because same-day elective surgeries were also affected. "We'll need to play catch up at some point in time," Mr Cook said.
But he insisted it was a "short-term measure" to ease pressure on emergency departments. Health Department director-general David Russell-Weisz told ABC Radio Perth it was not unusual to postpone non-urgent surgery during times of increased demand, but admitted it was unfortunate.
"Health services still do this all the time, but we try and make sure it's very limited," he said. "It may be a knee replacement, it may be something that is not classified as urgent. "If you are a category one patient and you need cancer surgery, you'll be seen as soon as we possibly can."
Private hospitals could be used
WA Health said the public health system was experiencing unprecedented demand, along with workforce shortages and staff illness.
"Compounding this is the significant and increasing numbers of long-stay patients in WA hospitals awaiting discharge to supported community accommodation and disability services, especially in mental health," a spokesperson said.
WA Health said it had a planned and scalable approach to respond to further COVID-19 outbreaks, potentially using private hospitals if required.