The federal government has lowered its restrictions on elective surgery as part of its ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic, with a gradual restart of selected procedures from 27 April.
Public and private hospitals will operate one-in-four closed operating lists, with the advising Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) recommending that select Category Two and important Category Three surgeries recommence, according to the Federal Health Minister’s office.
The AHPPC has suggested there should be particular emphasis on critical dental and endoscopic procedures, screening programs, assisted reproduction (IVF) and procedures representing low risk, high value care, as determined by specialist societies, as well as the needs of children whose procedures have exceeded clinical wait times and those at low risk of post-operative deterioration.
Category One surgeries that were exempt from the initial elective surgery restriction, can continue to be performed as normal.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison made the announcement after Tuesday’s National Cabinet meeting, stating that there were now improved stocks of personal protective equipment (PPE) and a growth in case numbers of less than 1% per day for nine days straight.
“This is an important decision because it marks another step on the way back,” Prime Minister Morrison said, stating that the government estimates 25% of activity will resume in public and private hospitals as a result of the changes.
“This would not be possible if we were unable to secure the additional PPE and it also wouldn’t be possible if we were not able to have confidence about the level of… cases that had been identified in Australia and the slowing that rate of growth down to very minimal levels.”
The Prime Minister also flagged that the current changes would be reviewed on 11 May, whereby it would also be determined if all surgeries and procedures can then recommence more broadly.
The Consumers Health Forum of Australia (CHF) welcomed the move, but qualified their support, focusing on the need to minimise risk for professionals while ensuring that PPE is available “system-wide, including in general practice.”
“A vigilant response to control the spread of COVID in the Australian community has always been essential but continued access to health care for non-COVID related medical conditions is also important,” CHF CEO Leanne Wells said in a statement.
“The proviso must be that this be done safely for both patient and clinician and without lessening the system’s capacity to respond to any increase in active COVID patients needing hospitalisation.”
Ms Wells also added that if the pandemic scenario changed it was important that elective surgery can be switched off again to meet the needs of the sector.
At the time of publication, there have been 6650 recorded cases of COVID-19 in Australia to date, with more than 1800 cases still active across the country.