Aussie Surgeons are Furious Elective Surgeries Are Going Ahead

For nigh on a week, Australia has been thrust into a state of mass confusion over what is and isn’t an essential service. Even our medical professionals are struggling to come to terms with the mixed messages coming from our national leaders. On Wednesday, Prime Minister Morrison announced a suspension of elective surgeries, but less than 24 hours later, he backflipped. The National Cabinet opted to extend the deadline for the suspension of non-urgent elective surgeries undertaken at private hospitals by a full week, infuriating doctors, surgeons and frontline health care workers.

You can view the Australian Government Department of Health’s official guidance here:

Surgeons Scott Morrison

In a statement released last night, Tony Sparnon, president of The Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS) revealed he was appalled by the decision. “We are seeing decision making that can only be described as putting commercial interests before patient safety. Many of our surgeons who work in private hospitals are appalled and refusing to operate on non-critical cases. We want to see leadership from the federal government that puts people’s safety first,” he said.

According to Sparnon, the decision to allow elective surgery to go ahead places frontline health care workers and medical professionals in grave danger. At the moment our most precious commodities are the medical staff working to fight against COVID-19. By having doctors and surgeons undertake non-urgent procedures in hospitals filled with COVID-19 patients, it raises the risk of them contracting the virus, further stunting the already desperately understaffed industry.

Surgeons 2

To explain the urgency more thoroughly, patients awaiting elective surgery are placed by their doctor in one of three categories;

  • Category 1 – Needing treatment within 30 days. Has the potential to deteriorate quickly to the point where the patient’s situation may become an emergency
  • Category 2 – Needing treatment within 90 days. Their condition causes pain, dysfunction or disability. Unlikely to deteriorate quickly and unlikely to become an emergency
  • Category 3 – Needing treatment at some point in the next year. Their condition causes pain, dysfunction or disability. Unlikely to deteriorate quickly.

By allowing category 2 and 3 patients to continue with their non-urgent surgeries, the Federal Government has pushed the national response to COVID-19 back by a week, a joint statement from the Australian medical colleges explains. The Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS), the Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists (ANZCA), the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RANZCOG), the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists (RANZCO) and the College of Intensive Care Medicine Australia and New Zealand (CICM) have all expressed concern over the decision. The medical groups have suggested the move undermines their social isolation policy, dips into critically low anaesthetic medicine and personal protection reserves, while “certainly” exposing health care workers to the illness.

“We would ask all patients to reconsider their need to undertake non-urgent elective surgery at this time. We would ask all surgeons, anaesthetists and hospital administrators to work collaboratively to assess the need for a patient to undertake non-urgent elective surgery at this time,” the joint statement read.

Surgeons

It doesn’t require a medical degree to see the group’s logic certainly has merit. The more doctors spending time in hospitals performing non-urgent surgeries, the greater the impact on our already stretched-too-thin services, and this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Thousands of Australian doctors have already made a desperate plea for a nationwide lockdown, warning that without one, there could be an alarming escalation in COVID-19 cases and preventable deaths. Intensive care specialist Greg Kelly released a petition at 1am on Tuesday calling for immediate and decisive government action. By 5pm, he said 5000 doctors had already penned their name.

With the COVID-19 pandemic prompting Queensland officials to enforce strict measures over who can and cannot enter the state, the question remains, when will our hospitals get a similar treatment?

You can view the Australian Government Department of Health’s official guidance here: