- On May 6, 2020
- May / June 2020
FROM THE CEO
Timing is everything
A cautious and measured return to elective surgery is in the best interests of patients and practitioners, including doctors-in-training.
THE CANCELLATION of non-urgent elective surgery in March was the right move at the right time. It achieved exactly what it was supposed to: preserve PPE, increase capacity, and give the health system more time to prepare for a potential surge of patients.
More than two million hospital admissions in Australia involve elective surgery – with two-thirds performed in private hospitals and one-third in public. While the decision was necessary, we recognise the profound personal and professional implications it has had for doctors and in many instances their staff. These doctors and their staff members made an important sacrifice for their safety and the safety of their patients. The suspension of elective surgery was also a burden on patients – many of whom have been waiting for surgeries that would have a significant impact on their mobility and pain: cataract surgeries, joint replacement, hernia repair – to name a few. Research indicates prolonging wait times for elective surgery can be detrimental – with patient deterioration proportional to the length of time they wait. They also face increased risks of falls and addiction to pain medication.
Whilst we are not through the COVID-19 pandemic, the low numbers of new cases have prompted a cautious and measured return to elective surgery.
AMA (NSW) supports this decision and we suggest it is time to evolve our thinking and our actions from the crisis response phase.
Re-opening elective surgery will be good for patients and it will benefit medical professionals. Yes, there is an economic benefit to doctors, but continued viability of practices and practitioners is important to the ongoing strength of the health system. Keeping the doors open and the lights on is integral to patient care.
It is also about ensuring the skill, expertise, and competence of the medical workforce is maintained. It is particularly crucial for trainees who need to fulfil a certain number of operating hours for their program. It’s heartbreaking for those who have undergone years of study and training to be stymied at this critical period in their professional development. Inability to get the experience they need will result in some doors shutting for those individuals. Like so many impacts from this pandemic, it’s not fair.
So while we must be cautious about re-opening elective surgery, and mindful of PPE usage, and transmission rates – particularly any increases in healthcare worker infections – there are a lot of good reasons to keep this on track.
I want to emphasise the benefits so that they loom large in all our minds, particularly over these next few weeks as decisions are made about which patients and when, as well as testing and self-isolation guidelines. We need to ensure access is balanced with patient/practitioner safety. This ongoing equilibrium will be critical in the months ahead.