Victoria declares Pandemic Code Brown at hospitals to stay ahead of climb in COVID patient numbers

Victoria declares Pandemic Code Brown at hospitals to stay ahead of climb in COVID patient numbers

The Victorian Government will put emergency measures in place across all public metropolitan and major regional hospitals from midday tomorrow, in a bid to stay on top of pressing demands on the health system as COVID case numbers rise.

Like many around the world, Victoria’s health system is juggling workforce shortages because of staff in isolation, a vast number of coronavirus patients requiring hospitalisation, and ongoing treatment for patients with urgent and emergency needs. 

In response, the government has announced a 'Pandemic Code Brown' - a measure normally used in emergency events such as bushfires - to reconfigure services to free up more staff, including the delivery of outpatient services outside the hospital, and the rapid offload of ambulance patients at emergency departments to get paramedics back on the road as soon as possible. 

Hospitals may also choose to redeploy staff to work in areas of highest clinical priority, and in some cases might mean health worker consultation about leave arrangements.

The state currently has 1,152 COVID patients hospitalised with the virus, but Acting Minister for Health James Merlino explained hospitalisation numbers tended to lag behind daily case rates and would likely peak over the next two to four weeks.

"COVID hospitalisations are already at record levels, and as we’ve seen in New South Wales, that’s likely to increase by around 100 people per day," Merlino said on what has been the deadliest day of the pandemic to date for Australia with 74 deaths from the virus from NSW, VIC and QLD alone.

"If we see what we've been seeing in New South Wales of 100 a day, we could well get to 2,500 hospitalisations and more over the next few weeks, so now is the right time to implement this plan; now is the right time to act.

"Hospitalisations lag a few weeks behind the peak of the numbers, and then ICU follows on from that."

Against this backdrop, Merlino has also called on more Victorians to get vaccinations or booster shots to help reduce the strain on the system.

"Having said all of that, the more people who get their third dose, the more children who are vaccinated, the lower the number in our hospital system will be," Merlino says.

In addition to hospitals in Metropolitan Melbourne, the Code Brown will be implemented at Barwon Health, Grampians Health, Bendigo Health, Goulburn Valley Health, Albury Wodonga Health and Latrobe Regional Hospital.

The Department of Health will also establish a new Health Service Response Centre which will help hospitals coordinate patient flow, distribute activity and support decisions around service reconfiguration – such as suspending some activity or moving to home-based care.

The Pandemic Code Brown is expected to last four to six weeks and health officials will monitor the situation to determine when it’s safe to begin winding down arrangements.

"Our hardworking health workers on the front-line are caring for record numbers of coronavirus patients every day – this is the best way to ensure our hospitals can continue to safely care for those that need it most," Merlino says.

"Our health services will have to make some hard decisions over the next few weeks to manage increasing demand and I thank every single one of them for making the tough calls necessary to help as many Victorians as they can.

"This coordinated approach will help ease the pressure on individual hospitals by better sharing the load across our system through prioritising resources, redistributing patient demand across the system and managing workforce shortages."

Updated at 1:28pm AEDT on 18 January 2022.

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