Australian hospitals are not prepared to cope with plans for easing COVID-19 restrictions, according to the Australian Medical Association (AMA) which has today called for new modelling based on staffing capacity to guide reopening plans.
In a dire warning to leaders, the AMA has written to the Prime Minister, state premiers and chief ministers telling them hospitals, and the people who work in them, are in danger of being locked into a “permanent cycle of crisis”.
The letter, from AMA president Dr Omar Khorshid, said the hospital system would be overwhelmed with an easing of restrictions - even with increased vaccination rates.
“Even pre-COVID, emergency departments were full, ambulances ramped, and waiting times for elective surgery too long.” Dr Khorshid said.
“While National Cabinet is considering the cost of expanding intensive care capacity for an expected COVID surge, a funding top-up alone won’t cut it. The Commonwealth will need to address the longer-term public hospital funding crisis.
“We must urgently prepare our health system before opening up and to do that we need new modelling based on our hospitals’ ability to cope with the associated increase in caseload.”
Dr Khorshid said new modelling should be commissioned to contemplate all aspects of the impact of COVID-19 on Australian hospital’s and the primary care sector.
“Staffing, for instance, is already a significant problem right across the health sector, exacerbated by international border closures,” Dr Khorshid said.
“Modelling should also contemplate the cost, efficiency impact and supply of enhanced PPE and infection controls, and the inevitable reduction in patient throughput, especially where COVID-19 positive and negative patients are treated at the same facility.
“The practice of furloughing staff exposed to COVID-19 won’t be sustainable once caseloads increase and this is one of the reasons the AMA called for vaccination to be mandated for all employees and contractors in hospitals and community health settings.”
The president also said modelling may show a higher level of vaccination is required to ensure the hospital sector remains functional once restrictions are fully eased.
“The AMA believes a vaccination rate higher than 80 per cent of the adult population is likely to be required to avoid repeated lockdowns given the existing constraints on hospital capacity and staffing,” Dr Khorshid said.
“If we throw open the doors to COVID we risk seeing our public hospitals collapse and part of this stems from a long-term lack of investment in public hospital capacity by state and federal governments.
“Our hospitals are not starting from a position of strength. Far from it. As well as ambulance ramping, we have the lowest bed-to-patient ratio in decades, our emergency and elective performance continues to decline, and our doctors and nurses continue to barely cope with their workloads and the constraints of the system.”
Updated at 10.19am AEST on 2 September 2021.
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