15 May 2020

Elective surgery to resume in the ACT, boosts for mental health funding announced

| Dominic Giannini
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ACT Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith

ACT Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith says all elective surgery will be back to normal in the next few weeks. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

National Cabinet has agreed to the resumption of elective surgery and approved a $48 million National Mental Health and Wellbeing Pandemic Response Plan.

Each state and territory will recommence elective surgery at their own pace. ACT Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said today that more announcements will be made locally next week. ACT patients who will have their elective surgeries brought forward will be contacted directly by their hospital.

We will continue to ramp-up elective surgery and we will do so in a careful and considered manner, and we will do so ensuring that we continue to monitor our supply capacity,” she said.

Some limited elective surgery had initially recommenced from April 24, including Category 1 surgeries and procedures, all Category 2 and selected Category 3 and other procedures possibly including: IVF, cancer screening programs, post-cancer reconstruction procedures, procedures for children under 18 years of age, joint replacements and some others.

The latest move from National Cabinet comes as the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak slows and health authorities determine that unused capacity across all public and private sectors, and harm to patients, can be reduced by taking further steps to restore elective surgery.

Nationally, PPE supplies need to be carefully managed but supply lines appear to be firming. Individual jurisdictions also need to maintain necessary ICU capacity in case of any localised outbreaks of COVID-19.

The staged approach to restoring elective surgery begins with Stage 1 (up to 50 per cent of normal surgical activity levels); Stage 2 (up to 75 per cent of normal surgical activity levels); and Stage 3 (up to 100 per cent of normal surgical activity levels), or as close to normal activity levels as is safely possible.

Private hospitals have been told that they should mirror their own State’s approach to surgical activity unless agreed otherwise.

The level of elective surgery will be reviewed monthly from May 2020 by the Australian Health Ministers’ Advisory Council (AHMAC), to ensure that it remains safe and sustainable, and in line with the agreed principles.

The National Mental Health and Wellbeing Pandemic Response Plan will include $7 million for more timely data and $30 million for outreach to vulnerable communities including non-English speaking residents and Indigenous Australians.

A further $11 million has been allocated to increase public awareness and $10 million for the national It’s OK not to be OK campaign.

The measures passed through National Cabinet with unanimous support from all the states and territories.

CEO of the National Mental Health Commission and the Prime Minister’s National Suicide Prevention Adviser, Christine Morgan, said there have been almost one million mental health services delivered in the last month.

“We have had people disconnect from services and we have had people really challenged with accessing services,” Ms Morgan said.

“The plan says, ‘we must reach into the community’. That means we need to be where people can access services.

“We need to be where people live. We need to be where people learn. We need to be where people work, and what they do in their community.”

Ms Morgan also cited the need to have better access to real-time data.

“We absolutely must come together as a country and see what we can actually do to improve that data collection so that we know not only what is happening, but we can better understand what to expect, and we can better move services to where they are needed,” she said.

Shane Rattenbury

ACT Mental Health Minister Shane Rattenbury recently announced a $4.5 million package to help prevent an increase of suicides in the Territory from COVID-19. Photo: Region Media.

Today’s announcement builds upon the ACT Government’s $4.5 million mental health package to help prevent an increase in suicides by intervening early and preventing any deterioration of mental illnesses in the community.

“This will provide that short-term injection that is needed to increase capacity,” Mental Health Minister Shane Rattenbury told Region Media last week.

“The history suggests, and all the research points to the fact, that the stressors we are seeing through COVID-19 – particularly the financial stress – will potentially increase the rate of suicide. We are very cognizant of that.

“Of course, we have the anecdotal feedback, the people in the sector do pick up the trends even though the data comes much later which is certainly why we are investing now … to try and in that sense be pre-emptive and bolster the support services.”

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