The peak body for obstetrics is arguing for women to be prioritised for “timely access” to abortions during the expected hospital surge.
Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists president Vijay Roach said termination of pregnancy was an “essential health service” that was time sensitive and that many patients were vulnerable – meaning access should be maintained throughout the pandemic.
“As healthcare resources and personnel are limited, triage decisions will need to be made,” Dr Roach said.
Dr Loi said the NSW and Victorian governments’ decision to fast-track elective surgeries in coming weeks to clear some patients from waiting lists before they had to cancel surgeries when the coronavirus surge hit was misguided, warning not all surgeries went to plan and patients with complications could tie up beds for longer than expected.
He said some hospitals would have better capacity than others to cater to elective patients, saying hospitals at the centre of Sydney’s coronavirus outbreak in the city’s north-west were already “under strain because of elective surgery waiting lists”, although some were outsourcing to private hospitals.
The bariatric surgeon said some patients had been on public waiting lists for more than a year with “some pain” for non-urgent procedures such as gall bladder operations, but that “another month or two” would not make a “drastic” difference.
“The public just have to understand at the moment it’s quite difficult,” Dr Loi said.
Other procedures that could be delayed include non-urgent cardiac procedures, routine colonoscopies, joint replacements and hernia removals.
Dr Roach said birthing wards should not be affected when hospitals moved to free up beds for the expected influx of coronavirus patients.
“Giving birth is not a choice – that’s as category 1 as you could possibly get,” he said.
Retired obstetricians would be called on to deliver babies as some practicing obstetricians would be asked to do other work, he said.
Dr Loi said medical specialists were being audited on their skills to see who could be deployed outside of their area of expertise, such as intubating patients in intensive care units and ensuring they knew how to properly use personal protective gear while treating coronavirus cases.
Health authorities would have to review resources as the coronavirus outbreak progressed, he said.
Category 1 surgeries are those that should be performed within 30 days, while category 2 surgeries are supposed to be performed within 90 days due to some pain, dysfunction or disability. Category 3 surgeries are those that can be deferred for longer.
Dana is health and industrial relations reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.