All non-urgent elective surgery has been cancelled at Wollongong Private Hospital in line with government measures to contain COVID-19, but CEO David Crowe says no staff will be stood down.
From April 1, non-urgent elective surgery will be banned in all Australia's public and private hospitals in a bid to preserve the healthcare system to respond to the pandemic. Only urgent surgery - such as cancer or cardiac surgery - will continue at hospitals until further notice.
"As per the government advice we are now only undertaking Category 1 and some exceptional Category 2 cases," Mr Crowe said. "It's about getting the balance right - doing surgery where it's urgent while ensuring there's enough personal protective equipment available in Australia.
"At Wollongong Private we stopped undertaking non-urgent surgery from midnight last Friday, ahead of the April 1 deadline. It means that we are only doing around 40 per cent of our previous workload.
"However we are not standing any staff down - some staff are taking leave during the temporary downturn, but in the not-too-distant future we are going to need all hands on deck."
That's because the private hospital has reached out to Wollongong Hospital, offering to help ease the surgical burden to ensure the area's main public health facility has the capacity to cater for COVID-19 patients.
"We're here to help - whatever we can do to assist Wollongong Hospital," Mr Crowe said. "Whether it's offering our intensive care beds, helping with surgery or medical rehabilitation patients, then that's what we'll do."
The private hospital has 10 ICU beds - but can add more if needed - and six ventilators, with an additional 13 anaesthetic machines that can be used as ventilators.
Mr Crowe said other Ramsay Health Care facilities in the region including Nowra and Southern Highlands private hospitals - had also cancelled all non-urgent surgeries. And it was business as usual at Ramsay's rehabilitation hospitals at Figtree and Thirroul (Lawrence Hargrave Private).
The NSW Nurses and Midwives' Association said more than 600 private hospital nurses had been stood down across the state ahead of the upcoming ban, including those employed by Healthe Care which runs Shellharbour Private and Wollongong Day Surgery.
However Shellharbour Private CEOChris Walshsaid the hospital was also working to assist the region's stretched public hospitals. This included providing a free fracture / injury clinic at Shellharbour Private supported by local orthopaedic surgeons to prevent patients attending public emergency departments.
Labor's health spokesman Ryan Park said the government needed to secure the financial viability of the private hospital system to ensure thousands more health workers didn't lose their jobs.
"The current situation threatens the closure of private hospitals across our region," he said. "If the virus continues its rate of transmission as it has done then we will need every available hospital bed, doctors, nurses and health workers to be used to fight this pandemic.
"It is simply ludicrous that in the middle of a public health emergency a government would allow hundreds of frontline workers to be sacked and important intensive care and treatment beds to be mothballed.
"The community expects better than buck-passing between the state and federal governments. What they need is all hands on deck to protect them and their families should they become infected with the virus."
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