The scheduling of elective surgeries at the Territory’s public hospitals and appointments at countless general practices across the city has been thrown into disarray by next week’s public holiday.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese announced over the weekend he was calling a snap public holiday for Thursday, 22 September, to mourn Queen Elizabeth II.
Canberra Health Services has since confirmed that approximately 23 elective surgeries will be rescheduled. It’s understood that one theatre will continue to deliver elective surgeries, but CHS had no exact figures for how many would go ahead.
A “range” of outpatient appointments will also be rescheduled, pathology collection centres closed and some community services will be scaled back. Treatments such as dialysis and critical cancer treatments will continue as usual.
Affected patients will be contacted directly.
Minister for Health Rachel Stephen-Smith told reporters this morning that surgeries would be rescheduled “as quickly as possible”, and each impacted patient would likely have a different wait time.
“There will already be surgeries booked in for future weeks, so it may be some weeks before they can be booked in,” she said.
She said it would be managed on a case-by-case basis.
Ms Stephen-Smith acknowledged elective surgery’s “life-changing” importance, saying waiting could have a “significant impact”.
When asked why the hospital could not continue to operate as normal, the Health Minister said staff had to be consulted about working on a public holiday.
“To undertake surgeries, you need a surgeon and all of the support staff available and people have a choice about whether they come in and do that,” she explained.
The closure of schools, for example, has impacted the availability of staff who have caring responsibilities.
It’s not just the hospital that has been affected by the short-notice public holiday, with the primary health network also forced to reschedule many appointments at short notice.
At the Waramanga Medical Centre, practice manager Samm Julian Curtis said patient responses to rescheduling appointments had been mixed.
With six consulting rooms and doctors working full time, many appointments have had to be moved – she estimated a ballpark figure of moved patients in the tens.
Due to the short notice, some doctors and Ms Julian Curtis will work in the morning.
It’s not just patients who had to be moved around, either. Staffing arrangements needed to be reshuffled due to the change.
“We have a mixture of part-time and casuals so some people will miss out on a shift they were expecting to have in the fortnight, and then there are staff we have to pay for regardless of how many patients and bookings we have,” Ms Julian Curtis explained.
But, for Ms Julian Curtis, it’s just another thing the last few years have thrown at the sector, which she reckoned was getting pretty good at managing last-minute disruptions.
“We deal with changes every day that we have to accommodate, so it hasn’t been too bad … sometimes you just have to go with the flow,” she said.
“It has been a bit of a juggle to manage everyone’s needs and make sure staff and patients are looked after.”
Capital Health Network ACT’s Primary Health Network CEO Megan Cahill described the public holiday as “problematic”.
“While many practices would prefer to stay open, they just can’t when many of their staff have young children who will need to be cared for that day. Practice owners also need to consider if they can open with the remaining skeleton staff who would need to receive public holiday leave loading,” she said.
The Territory’s Walk-In Centres, COVID-19 clinic at Garran and emergency departments will be open on Thursday, 22 September.