Call for elective surgery to be shut down as masks run low

“Bringing patients in and moving them around unnecessarily, it’s putting staff at risk … Already, health care workers around the world are dying,” he said.

The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age have been told of multiple cases where patients were told their elective procedures could not go ahead due to a lack of protective equipment.

Anaesthetists, ear nose and throat surgeons and gastrointestinal surgeons are particularly worried about the lack of personal protective equipment, as the types of procedures they perform put them at increased risk of contracting the virus SARS-CoV-2 from patients.

Dr Hackett said he was stunned to see “non-essential”, cosmetic procedures such as tummy tucks (abdominoplasty) on the elective surgery list at a private hospital in Sydney this week.

“It’s pure greed,” he said.

“They need to stop all non-urgent elective work … 60 per cent of the workload on that list was non-urgent elective surgery that should have been delayed.”

Australian Private Hospitals Association chief executive Michael Roff has written to federal Health Minister Greg Hunt and chief medical officer Brendan Murphy to demand help acquiring masks.

Mr Roff, who was due to meet with federal health officials on Monday night, said individual private hospitals had been struggling to secure protective equipment and masks since February and were not well positioned to compete in the global rush to buy them.

“We’ve asked for access to the national medical stockpile,” he said.

State health authorities had refused to share the masks they were holding for public hospitals, he said.

The Gastroenterological Society of Australia and the Australian Society of Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery have recommended non-urgent services be deferred in order to “limit the number of patients attending hospitals” and save on masks.

In a statement the Australian Society of Anaesthetists said long sleeved gowns, P2 or N95 masks, face shields or goggles and disposable gloves were needed to prevent coronavirus infection, and doctors and nurses must be trained to properly use them.

Professor Murphy, who has previously said “most elective surgeries” would have to be cancelled when the coronavirus hit, said personal protective equipment stocks “are precious at the moment” and the government had done “a lot of work” to secure more masks.

“Minister Hunt has personally driven a huge international procurement process,” he said.

The Victorian government is fast-tracking urgent elective surgeries in public hospitals ahead of mass cancellations to make way for COVID-19 patients, while the NSW health department has shifted some elective work to the private sector and is reducing its elective surgery lists.

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