Scrubs 3

Restarting elective surgery – what does this mean for me?

1 minute read

30 May 2020

  • Elective surgeries have recommenced on a clinical priority basis
  • Real time system introduced to monitor intensive care capacity
  • Resumption of surgery will be managed on a state-by-state basis

Each year over two million Australians are admitted to hospital for elective surgery, with two-thirds of these admissions in private hospitals, meaning a lot of Australians are eager to understand what the easing of COVID-19 elective surgery restrictions will mean for them. 

Restrictions on some elective surgeries – including joint replacements, screening programs, IVF, post-operative reconstruction procedures, cataracts and eye procedures – have already been lifted with an aim of “restoring care in a safe and equitable way in this very challenging environment,” according to Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Dr Nick Coatsworth. 

Priority will be given to low-risk and high-value procedures, patients with a low risk of post-operative complications, and under-18s. While cosmetic or other procedures not addressing significant medical conditions will not yet be considered.

As a frontline worker, it’s critical to safeguard your health to allow you to continue protecting the community. While you may not think you have any elective surgery on the horizon, something like a knee reconstruction from an injury or a wisdom tooth removal may come up unexpectedly and without private health insurance, at the best of times, you could be looking at a lengthy wait time in the public system or significant out-of-pocket expenses to be treated at a private hospital without cover. This rings true now more than ever before.

When will elective surgery start again?

Wait times for hospital admissions will vary state-to-state and will be affected by local hospital capacity, jurisdiction capacity, transport availability and any other relevant quarantine arrangements that are in place. The Royal Australasian College of Surgeons explains that “responsibility for the implementation and monitoring of the resumption of elective surgery will be under the control of each State and Territory’s Chief Medical Officer, who will also deal with specific complaints in both public and private hospitals, under the government’s national viability partnership agreement with private hospitals.” 

At time of writing, individual states have not yet announced their strategies for recommencement of elective procedures, however private patients should anticipate hearing from their hospital within the next few weeks. If you are a Emergency Services Health member, speak to your doctor about when you might be admitted for surgery.

If surgery is required, it’s important that appropriate social distancing measures continue for any pre-operative appointments and management post-surgery – e.g. telehealth consultations where possible.

Intensive Care Capacity System

In order to support the resumption of elective surgery, the Australian government has introduced the Critical Health Resource Information System (CHRIS) to manage the evolving capacity of the healthcare system. This real time system monitors intensive care capacity (beds, ventilators, number of COVID-19/non-COVID-19 cases) across the public and private hospital network and will ensure that patients who require intensive care following elective surgery are accommodated. 

What’s next?

A review of the measures is scheduled for May to determine whether additional services can recommence and volumes increased. However, restrictions may be reintroduced if cases of COVID-19 surge again.