Elective surgery will be fast-tracked under a new $1.5 billion Andrews Government plan to catch-up on surgery deferred due to the pandemic response.
ANMF (Vic Branch) welcomes the plan, announced on 3 April 2022, and hopes that it will end of the unhelpful politicisation of the ‘waiting list’ while also recognising that the plan must be sustainable as there is no quick fix.
Under the leadership of a new Chief Surgical Adviser, the plan will be overseen by a clinically led, system-wide and co-ordinated Surgery Recovery Taskforce. Among its funded initiatives, it provides more than $80 million to upskill more than 1,000 nurses and theatre and sterilisation technicians, as well as supporting the education of an additional 400 perioperative and anaesthetic and recovery nurses, along with additional nurse educator positions to support these nurses whilst they are learning these skills over the next two years.
More surgical and surgical liaison nurses will also be funded to help prioritise patients waiting for surgery, and to provide post-operative/procedure care.
Operating at 125 per cent
While training and upskilling are long-term investments, the Andrews Government says the more immediate benefits of the plan will see the state ‘running at 125 per cent of our normal pre-pandemic effort’ by 2023, translating to 40,000 extra surgeries in the next 12 months, and building up to 240,000 surgeries annually by 2024.
To help achieve this, Healthscope’s Frankston Private Hospital will be transformed into a public surgery centre. With two additional state-of-the-art theatres to be built at the hospital, it is expected the new centre will have capacity to support up to 9,000 public patients per year from 2023. This facility will be 100 per cent focused on COVID catch-up care.
The wider public system, meanwhile, is set to receive a $475 million investment to support more activity, including more same-day surgeries, increased twilight and after-hours work, and theatre improvements to increase efficiency, boosted by a $20 million Surgical Equipment Innovation Fund to help health services upgrade their surgical equipment and diagnostic machines.
Another $548 million has been earmarked for the treatment of public patients in private hospitals, building on the public–private collaboration established during the pandemic. The government expects this will help an extra 51,300 Victorians to receive category three elective surgeries by June 2024.
Also included in the plan are Rapid Access Hubs at metropolitan public hospitals, designed to exclusively perform specific surgeries such as hernia repairs and joint replacements. The first seven hubs will be established at St Vincent’s on the Park, Broadmeadows Hospital, Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital, Royal Women’s Hospital, Werribee Mercy Hospital, Sandringham Hospital and the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre; a regional Hub site is planned but yet to be announced.
Stop baiting on waiting lists
Responding to the announcement, Branch Secretary Lisa Fitzpatrick welcomed the plan’s extension of the public–private sector co-operation and called out those who would politicise waiting lists.
‘Any who spout blame are simply proving they don’t understand the health system or the workforce, including what our members have been through and are still experiencing as we move into the third year of the pandemic,’ she said.
‘We had to pause category two and three surgeries and day procedures for significant periods of time during 2020, 2021 and early 2022, while the health system carried the burden of thousands of COVID patients with fewer staff as thousands were furloughed due to having the virus or being a close contact.’
Ms Fitzpatrick said the increased public–private sector collaboration ‘will yield more sophisticated and accurate data collection’ and ‘provide unprecedented co-ordination’. This is significant because under the pre-pandemic system there has been no accurate centralised elective surgery/procedure waiting list. Individual hospitals have their own lists, and there is no way to tell how many people might be on multiple lists. Which means you also cannot just add all the lists together to find out how many patients need surgery/procedures.
Ms Fitzpatrick also welcomed the investment in workforce expansion to underpin the plan. ‘The government has almost 100 nurses ready to start 400 fully-funded postgraduate study places,’ she said. ‘These positions are in addition to other nursing positions announced by the government [as part of this plan]. This shows this is a considered plan that understands the logistics and the workforce development that will get these deferred surgeries/day procedures done sooner and future work done in a more timely way.’
Frankston Private Hospital members meeting
Following the government’s announcement, ANMF (Vic Branch) met with members from Frankston Private Hospital to discuss the benefits of moving to the public sector and respond to questions that members had.
Further members meetings will be held in the coming weeks as further information comes to hand and issues are clarified and resolved.