Cautious approach required for elective surgery

February 22, 2022

The Victorian Government’s gradual resumption of elective surgery is supported by the peak body for public hospitals, but any plans for further increases or an “elective surgery blitz” must consider the welfare of fatigued healthcare workers. 

The Victorian Healthcare Association recognises the need to catch up on deferred care, but not at the expense of pushing our exhausted healthcare workers too far.

“Public hospitals must continue to have the final say on how much elective surgery they can do especially on weekends and after hours. They are best placed to assess their capacity for it, including their workers’ needs,” said Tom Symondson, CEO of the VHA.

“If you ask any hospital CEO what their biggest concern is right now, it’s the welfare of their staff. We have a dire shortage of healthcare workers in some parts of Victoria and if we don’t have healthcare workers, we cannot provide care including surgery,” he said.

Mr Symondson said Victoria has done a great job of caring for healthcare workers during the pandemic – a priority that must continue if we are to keep the entire health system functioning.

“You don’t have to look far north to see the consequences of overwhelmed public hospitals. Nurses and paramedics in New South Wales have been on strike this month after working through a higher peak of COVID-19 cases due to the state’s more cavalier approach to public health restrictions,” he said.

The VHA wants the return to elective surgery to be done gradually to account for ongoing furloughing of staff, and to retain capacity for emergency cases due to COVID-19 and delayed care stemming from reduced cancer screening and other health checks over the past two years.

“We must retain capacity in the system to flex up. We are still adjusting to children being back at school, people returning to offices, and international tourists flying in,” Mr Symondson said.

“We need to proceed cautiously to keep our health system available for the sickest people needing the most urgent care. Public hospitals know how to judge the balance in their services, so they can retain that capacity.”

While it might feel like life has returned to normal in Victoria, Mr Symondson said Victoria’s ambulance service and hospitals are still managing an extraordinary set of circumstances.

“We still have the equivalent of one Melbourne hospital full of people with COVID-19. We have hundreds of healthcare workers furloughed every day. And we have defence force personnel recruited to drive ambulances and work in aged care facilities. We are not out of the woods yet.”

 

More information and interviews available

Mr Symondson is available for comment.

Media can contact: Julia Medew on 0402 011 438 or Julia.Medew@vha.org.au