Hand surgery is also mostly day surgery, and the impact of a delay in treatment can prevent people from being able to work as well as exacerbate conditions, Dr Mukherjee said.
Between April and June, before the state’s COVID-19 outbreak took hold, the average wait time for category 3 surgery in NSW was 256 days, down from 302 days after elective surgery was paused in early 2020 although 10 days longer than the wait during the same period in 2019.
Last month, the NSW branch of the Australian Medical Association called for day surgery to be reinstated at private hospitals, expressing concern about the backlog of procedures being created and the lack of clarity around when any elective surgery would be able to start up again in the state.
At the time, NSW AMA president Danielle McMullen said the result of the non-urgent surgery ban had left some hospital staff with little work to do and allowing day surgery would mean they could still be quickly mobilised for the pandemic response if needed.
Professor Henry Woo, a urological surgeon at Sydney Adventist Hospital and councillor at the college, said the ministry’s announcement on Friday was “really welcomed”, although it had caught the sector off guard.
“The timing of the announcement just prior to the long weekend wasn’t ideal and created a tough day for hospitals last Friday,” he said, adding there was a “scramble” to organise patient lists to ensure they would be able to receive treatment this week.
“We all have large numbers of patients who have been doing it tough managing both symptoms and associated anxiety,” he said, noting many of his patients did not know when they could receive their operation as they required a hospital stay.
Dr Mukherjee agreed that although the change was welcome it was “still not business as usual” for surgeons in the state.
October was usually one of the busiest months for elective surgery, she said, and under the revised rules, category 3 surgery which involves an overnight stay, such as hip and knee replacements, cannot go ahead.
“We are still worried about the impact of hospitalisations when people do start to move around a lot more,” she said.
“Although we are hopeful with such a high vaccination rate, that spike is not going to happen.”
On Monday, 67.1 per cent of people aged 16 and over in NSW were fully vaccinated against COVID-19, firming up estimates that the state will hit its 70 per cent target mid-week.
Six COVID-19 deaths were reported on Monday, including a woman in her 60s associated with an outbreak within Mount Druitt Hospital’s dialysis unit which infected three other patients, including a man whose death was announced on Saturday.
A Western Sydney Local Health District spokesperson said the virus entered the unit when the woman, who had tested negative a day before receiving treatment, tested positive the following day.
She is believed to have acquired her infection in the community.
While case numbers in western Sydney decline, health authorities remain concerned by high rates of infection in some parts of regional NSW.
There were 77 new cases in the Illawarra on Monday, including 54 in Wollongong, and 59 in Hunter-New England’s local health district, the majority in Cessnock and Lake Macquarie.
Stay-at-home orders will be introduced for the Gunnedah local government area at midnight, following recent cases. Those in place in Cowra and Port Macquarie will be lifted as scheduled on Tuesday.
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