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Elective surgeries at public hospitals in Ballarat, Bendigo, Shepparton and the Latrobe Valley will return to 50 per cent capacity from Monday as the Victorian government flags additional changes to procedures in the coming weeks.
The announcement comes amid increased pressure on the Andrews government to return facilities to their full capacity, as more than 66,000 patients, many in chronic pain, languish on the state’s elective surgery waiting list.
On Wednesday, the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons warned the elective surgery load was far too limited and should be expanded before the Christmas and New Year holiday period when many healthcare workers take annual leave.
“We believe that the current stabilisation of the COVID-19 situation with high vaccination rates, fall in the number of COVID-19 cases and a gradual reduction in hospital inpatient ICU cases presents an ideal window of opportunity for government to restore surgery to full capacity,” college president Dr Sally Langley said.
The college said the delays caused by the cap were affecting urgent and semi-urgent cases.
Under the changes announced today, private hospitals and day procedure centres will increase elective surgery capacity from 50 per cent to 75 per cent from Monday, as long as they contribute to the state’s pandemic response.
Health services will be able to reduce the number of non-urgent surgeries they perform if they are struggling to deal with high patient loads as a result of a surge in COVID-19 cases.
Major metropolitan public hospitals and Barwon Health will continue to provide urgent elective surgery and emergency procedures only to free up capacity to deal with pandemic-related pressures.
Health Minister Martin Foley said the return of elective surgeries was the result of Victoria’s high vaccination rate, which had reduced the number of people admitted to hospital with COVID-19.
“Reducing hospitalisations has given us the flexibility to further expand elective surgery and help ease the burden on Victorians waiting for procedures,” he said.
“We will continue to monitor the situation closely so that we are ready to respond to any surges in COVID-19 activity, while also making sure we are supporting the dedicated staff who keep our operating theatres running.”
The government said further increases to elective surgery capacity would be considered in coming weeks.