11 July 2022

Hospital will survive this winter but it will come at a cost to patients and staff: Health boss

| Lottie Twyford
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Dave Peffer

Canberra Health Services boss Dave Peffer said the hospital is under extreme pressure, but the system will stand up to the test. Photo: Lottie Twyford.

As health authorities issue dire warnings about daily COVID-19 caseloads doubling, if not tripling in a matter of weeks, the head of the hospital has added his own grim predictions to the mix.

Canberra Health Services CEO Dave Peffer said today the health system, which is already under “increasing strain”, would survive this winter and the expected spike in cases, but it would come at a price.

He said that cost would be health-related for patients who would likely face lengthy delays for elective and non-emergency surgeries, and an already-exhausted workforce would be increasingly burnt out.

“Time delays aren’t free in healthcare because at the other side of that time delay is a patient and a family that has been waiting for care,” he said.

“That patient could be living with mobility issues or chronic pain, and so with each decision we make, we recognise that is the cost.”

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Mr Peffer wouldn’t put a date, a number of COVID-19 patients or any other figure on just how much longer the hospital could continue in this way, instead repeatedly asserting the system would and could pull through the challenging winter ahead.

“People can expect that – if we see a tripling of cases – the health services available in the Territory will markedly change,” he said.

outside view of Canberra hospital emergency department

As of today, there are 136 people with COVID-19 in Canberra Hospital. Photo: File.

As in jurisdictions around the country, the ACT’s health system is facing what authorities have described as a perfect storm – existing chronic staff shortages, high numbers of COVID-19 patients requiring care, pandemic-related leave wreaking havoc on staffing levels and the usual strain associated with winter illnesses.

If the modelling is correct, COVID-19 cases are set to soar to new heights of 2000 and 3000 in the coming weeks, Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman said today, and this spike would be accompanied by rising hospitalisations.

Mr Peffer said decisions about what care could be provided were being made on a daily basis by management, which has now been the case for some time at the hospital.

“At an operational level, every morning, we make decisions about how we can keep the service safe,” he explained.

That could mean shortening the opening hours of services or deferring procedures and specialist clinics.

READ ALSO BA.4, BA.5 are here and driving higher caseloads: here’s what you need to know

For example, this morning, Canberra Hospital could not operate 30 of 90 treatment spaces in its emergency departments due to bed block and workforce shortages.

It was also grappling with a quarter of the junior medical doctors being unavailable for work because of COVID, flu or other reasons.

In the last three months alone, 18,000 days of COVID-19 leave had been used by Canberra Health Services team members.

“That’s not including influenza and other respiratory viruses or other leave, and that places a pretty big strain on those who are left to carry the load and keep those services running,” he said.

“I’d be surprised if we can get through one week without at least one day impacted by [cancellations of surgeries and specialist clinics]”.

To help reduce the spread of COVID and its impact on the health system, Mr Peffer urged the wearing of masks and for people to be up to date with their vaccinations.

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One of the commentators has stated that he didn’t report his Covid infection and that he expects many others don’t either. Here is the problem; the absence of Personal Responsibility.

Reporting a Covid infection is mandatory! By not reporting it, Health authorities do not have accurate numbers to base their strategies on.

ACT is a small island and alone, masks and restrictions will not stop Covid, but nor will putting faith in Personal Responsibility. I can act responsible and do all of the right things, but if my neighbour doesn’t, then it all falls over.

We achieved double vaccinations fairly quickly, but the rate of booster shots have lagged. People have become complacent since the removal of mask mandates and other restrictions.

Even on public transport, where mask mandates remain, compliance is low, because there is no enforcement. Step up ACT Government and enforce your own mandates!

Medical authorities are calling for masks and urging boosters. Politicians are gently suggesting people wear masks, but none of them are prepared to step up and make the call.

Wearing masks in shopping centres, Bunnings etc is a very small price to pay, if it saves just one person’s life. In Australia, we’ve had 10,000 Covid death, of which 80% have been in the last 12 months. IE after restrictions have been lifted.

It’s time to get more serious and to stop the complacency. At a minimum, wear a mask! Please.

We can’t know for sure but the daily cases are probably well over 3,000 now. Most people I know, myself included, who’ve had covid don’t report it. You just stay home until recovered. This belief that re-introducing masks will save us all shows how easily conned people still are. The ACT is not an island, we are a tiny part of NSW.
We have to live with Covid for all eternity, temporary masking, temporary lock downs, all these measures have proven to be ineffective with a high human toll.
As a whole I think most of society behaved well last year but I don’t believe people will be as easily conned and will be as blindly compliant in the future.

Finagen_Freeman7:35 pm 11 Jul 22

Not doing masks again. Just vaccinate and medicate. Anyone not willing can go to the back of any covid positive queues.

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