While category 3 day surgery resumed for public and private patients at private hospitals from October 4, other procedures – including category 2 operations in which it is deemed a delay will not result in the “deterioration” of a patient as well as category 3 operations which require an overnight stay – did not.
The restrictions left surgeons unsure when their patients will be able to receive life-changing procedures such as joint replacements, endometriosis procedures and plastic surgery.
NSW chair of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons Payal Mukherjee said they were “waiting for the final go-ahead”, with a decision expected based on COVID-19 hospitalisation figures over this week.
Dr Mukherjee said it was difficult to quantify the number of procedures which had been affected by the shutdown but it was fewer than were affected by the suspension of surgery in 2020 – after which the state’s waitlist blew out to more than 100,000 patients – even though the present restrictions had been in place for a longer period.
In part, she said this was because not all surgery was suspended, although other factors were at play.
“Patients are not necessarily presenting to doctors, and GPs have been vaccinating so they aren’t necessarily seeing their usual course of patients,” she explained, noting the impact would likely be most felt in early 2022 when diagnoses caught up.
The NSW branch of the Australian Medical Association has repeatedly called for a road map out of restrictions on the healthcare system, as other sectors reopen.
In the past fortnight some additional COVID-19 wards at public hospitals in Sydney’s west, including Westmead and Liverpool, have been closed. Campbelltown Hospital – which had six COVID-19 wards last month – now only requires one.
Wards for public patients opened at Westmead Private Hospital have shut. St Vincent’s Private Hospital has closed its suspected COVID-19 ward, although continues to treat some non-COVID public patients.
Carmel Monaghan, CEO of Ramsay Health Care Australia, which operates St George Private and Westmead Private hospitals, said “most” of the hundreds of staff who had been seconded to NSW Health for the pandemic effort were back in their regular roles.
“We are looking forward to being able to reschedule procedures for patients, whose treatments have been delayed for almost two months, with the aim of improving their quality of life,” she said.
David Faktor, spokesman for St Vincent’s Private said it was expecting to recommence some category 3 elective surgery cases “in the coming weeks”.
On the ground, some private hospital staff have reported being relatively idle while waiting for elective surgery to resume.
A St George Private Hospital doctor, who asked to not be named as he was not authorised to speak publicly, said he had lost “about half” of his work as his schedule was cut back to just day surgery.
The hospital was braced to potentially treat COVID-19 patients this month, however declining cases meant the surge capacity was not needed.
“We really are just sitting around waiting,” he said, noting the surgery affected may not strictly result in “deterioration” if delayed, but its postponement could have significant physical and mental consequences for patients.
There were 265 new local COVID-19 cases reported in NSW on Monday, the lowest daily figure since August 8, and five deaths.