Elective Surgery May Be Delayed as NSW Hospital System Overwhelmed

By Nina Nguyen
Nina Nguyen
Nina Nguyen
Nina Nguyen is a reporter based in Sydney. She covers Australian news with a focus on social, cultural, and identity issues. She is fluent in Vietnamese. Contact her at nina.nguyen@epochtimes.com.au.
January 21, 2022Updated: January 21, 2022

Australians may have their elective surgeries cancelled in the state of New South Wales (NSW) as hospitals struggle to cope with COVID-19 hospitalisations.

NSW Health Deputy Secretary Susan Pearce on Friday said that whether the government will turn non-urgent elective surgeries back on in NSW is “highly dependent with what happens with respect to hospitalisations.”

Non-urgent surgery can include having a gallbladder removed, cataract operations, some types of cancer procedures and hip replacements.

The issue will be detailed in a mid-February review, the secretary said, noting “the next week or two will be critical in terms of making a decision.”

Australia’s most populous state on Jan. 7 suspended all non-urgent elective surgery as it recorded over 38,600 COVID-19 cases, including more than 1,730 hospitalisations, and 134 patients in ICU.

“It is never the thing we want to do, to suspend surgery and make people wait for longer,” Pearce said.

Surgery “absolutely” will resume, she added, but noted that authorities “just can’t make a call on that yet.”

Meanwhile, Alexis Wolfe, the CEO of Endometriosis Australia, said many people have been “holding onto that surgery date” and “looking forward to the possible relief” that will come with the surgery.

“It’s just something that is getting further and further away from them,” Wolfe said.

The waiting time for endometrial surgery in public hospitals has been extended 18 months, Wolfe said. Regional patients and complex cases requiring multiple surgeons could even push the queue time further.

The longer the suspension for non-urgent surgeries, the more patients will need other types of care and the longer waitlists will grow, said Dr. Sally Langely, president of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons.

Langley stressed that despite its name, elective surgery is “essential surgery to treat people for significant conditions that (make) people (suffer) pain, disease and deterioration.”

She said surgeons would like to see more non-urgent surgeries able to continue, as the country has seen surgery cancellations over the last two years. These surgeries enabled people to heal, she noted.

Since many of the procedures of elective surgery were done to ease the conditions, delayed access to surgery could leave patients contending with pain, said Danielle McMullen, president of the NSW Australian Medical Association.

“There’s a significant number of people out there who have been waiting longer than they should for their surgeries—they are now in pain, or with conditions that may worsen,” she said.

“We’re hopeful a return to elective surgery might be on the cards.”

Last year, NSW Health placed a 75 percent cap on overnight, non-urgent elective surgery in public and private hospitals across NSW from late October to early November in the wake of the lifting of restrictions.

AAP contributed to this report.