Australians may have their elective surgeries canceled in the state of New South Wales (NSW) as hospitals struggle to cope with COVID-19 hospitalizations.
NSW Deputy Health Minister Susan Pierce said on Friday whether the government would resume non-urgent elective surgeries in NSW “depends to a large extent on what happens with hospital admissions.”
Non-urgent surgery may include gallbladder removal, cataract surgery, some cancer procedures, and hip replacement.
The issue will be considered in detail in mid-February, the Secretary of State said, noting that “the next week or two will be critical in terms of a decision.”
Australia’s most populous state suspended all non-urgent elective surgeries on January 7 as it recorded more than 38,600 cases of COVID-19, including more than 1,730 hospitalizations and 134 patients in intensive care.
“We never want to put an operation on hold and make people wait longer,” Pierce said.
Surgery will “absolutely” resume, she added, but noted that the authorities “just can’t say it yet.”
Meanwhile, Alexis Wolfe, CEO of Endometriosis Australia, said many people are “holding on to this surgery date” and “looking forward to the eventual relief” that will come after surgery.
“It’s just something that gets further and further away from them,” Wolfe said.
Wait times for endometrial surgery at public hospitals have been extended by 18 months, Wolfe said. Regional patients and complex cases requiring the participation of several surgeons can further increase the waiting time in the queue.
According to Dr. Sally Langeli, president of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, the longer non-urgent surgeries are suspended, the more patients will need other types of care and the longer waiting lists will grow.
Langley stressed that, despite its name, elective surgery is “an essential operation to treat people with serious conditions that (make) people (suffer) in pain, disease, and deterioration.”
She said surgeons would like to be able to continue with more non-urgent surgeries, as the country has seen cancellations of surgeries in the past two years. She noted that these operations allowed people to heal.
According to Danielle McMullen, president of the Australian Medical Association of New South Wales, because many elective surgery procedures were performed to relieve the condition, delayed access to surgery could result in patients struggling with pain.
“There are a significant number of people who have waited longer than they should have had surgery – now they are in pain or may be getting worse,” she said.
“We hope a return to elective surgery can be on the cards.”
Last year, NSW Health placed a 75 percent cap on nightly non-emergency elective surgeries at public and private hospitals in New South Wales from late October to early November after restrictions were lifted.
AAP contributed to this report.