Non-urgent elective surgeries have been cancelled for now because of coronavirus. Here’s what that means


March 26, 2020 13:59:00

Starting today, non-urgent elective surgeries in Australia’s public hospitals will be suspended.

It’s to help preserve resources, including protective equipment, and help the health system prepare for the influx of patients expected in the coming weeks and months due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Will surgeries in private hospitals still go ahead?

No. The new rules apply to both the public and private health systems.

They were agreed on by the National Cabinet and apply in every state.

But a late-night amendment to the suspension, announced on Wednesday, will give private hospitals a few extra days before the changes come into place.

Semi-urgent category two and three elective surgeries at private hospitals can continue until 11.59pm on April 1.

When will non-urgent elective surgeries resume?

There’s no clear answer.

The Prime Minister said the suspension was “temporary” and would continue “until further notice”.

The Victorian Government said the surgeries would resume only when it was safe to do so, and would consider surge capacity to reduce waiting lists, which would inevitably blow out.

But the timing all depends on how overwhelmed our hospital system gets and for how long.

And Dr Norman Swan told 7:30 the length of the pandemic depends on how successful our personal distancing measures are.

Which surgeries will be suspended?

All category three surgeries and most category two surgeries will be temporarily suspended.

According to the National Elective Surgery Urgency Categorisation Guideline published by the Australian Health Ministers’ Advisory Council, surgeries usually deemed category three include:

  • Total hip replacement
  • Total knee replacement
  • Shoulder reconstruction
  • Removing tonsils
  • Removing haemorrhoids
  • Laparoscopy for endometriosis
  • Breast reconstruction
  • Breast reduction
  • Varicose veins treatment
  • Anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction

Which surgeries will continue?

Only emergency surgeries, category one and some exceptional category two surgeries will continue for now.

Surgeries usually deemed category one include:

  • Breast lump removal and biopsy
  • Mastectomy
  • Removing malignant skin lesions
  • Craniotomy for ruptured aneurysm
  • Neonatal surgery
  • Prostate biopsy
  • Removing urinary tract stones
  • Amputation of a limb

Many more surgeries fall into category two, and will continue in urgent circumstances where a delay would cause a risk to the patient.

How will it help?

Suspending elective surgeries will free up beds and health workers to better respond to COVID-19 patients.

But another huge benefit is it will save scarce personal protective equipment such as masks, gowns, gloves and goggles.

Doctors have been appealing for more government action to boost supplies of personal protective equipment.

The Federal Government has promised an extra 30 million medical masks in Australia within two weeks, but the director of a company that supplies more than 500 Australian hospitals has warned that “most hospitals” are only days away from running out.











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