Royal Darwin and Palmerston Hospitals are postponing elective surgeries and restricting visiting hours in an attempt to minimise the risk of COVID-19 transmission to patients.
- There has still only been one case of COVID-19 in the NT
- As yet, there has been no community spread of the virus
- The restrictions are being made as a precautionary measure
The decision came just days after six top NT doctors wrote to Territory chief health officer Dr Hugh Heggie, calling on him to take “immediate action” to minimise the impact of coronavirus on vulnerable Territorians.
The doctors made a number of recommendations, including suspending elective surgeries, stopping dental and standing down the medical school, halting dental services and suspending all elective surgery except life or limb-preserving elective surgery.
The letter was signed by the Royal Darwin Hospital’s [RDH] acting director of anaesthesia Andrew Fenton, director of emergency medicine Didier Palmer, women, children and youth medical co-director Kathryn Roberts, surgery and critical care medical co-director Mahiban Thomas, ICU director Paul Goldrick and medicine medical co-director Nadarajah Kangaran.
It warned “Australia is only weeks” behind countries such as Italy and the Netherlands, and soon there will be an “overwhelming number” of patients requiring the ICU and ventilation.
Restrictions now in place
Top End Health executive director of medical services Charles Pain, who was copied into the email, said the Territory was in the fortunate position of having very low prevalence of COVID-19 cases and was putting in place the best possible preparations to minimise the impact of the virus in the NT.
The NT still only has one confirmed case of the virus, and there has been no community transmission.
“We regret any inconvenience these changes will have for our patients as well as their families and friends,” Dr Pain said.
“We believe these changes are in the best interests of patients during this challenging period and to slow down the spread of this virus as much as possible.”
Visiting hours are restricted to 10:00am to 12:00pm; and 5:00pm-7:00pm each day, except for maternity and paediatrics.
Only one visitor will be allowed per patient in each visiting session and there will be no visitors aged under 16 allowed.
Exemptions to these visiting rules will apply in special circumstances, such as palliative care, through a request to ward managers.
Elective surgery category 2 and 3 have been postponed, but elective surgery for category 1 continues.
NT Health said elective surgery was being managed as per its existing protocols and would be rescheduled in due course.
‘We will beat this together’
Deputy Chief Health Officer Dianne Stephens said Top End Health did not want to separate parents from their children, so they would be some exceptions made for people in maternity and palliative care.
“If we are serious about reducing that spread, we need to change the way we do things,” Dr Stephens told ABC Radio Darwin.
“But we have to be kind.”
Dr Stephens said it wasn’t unusual to cancel or defer elective surgeries in a “crisis”.
She also addressed the 16 recommendations outlined in the letter to Dr Heggie, and said the six doctors who penned it did not have access to the same information she did.
“Yes, we are all worried, we’re worried about how this is going to impact on our system, we’re worried about if we’re going to have enough beds in our system,” Dr Stephens said.
“All of those things outlined in that letter were already in place, or had already been done or we’re working on.”
Dr Stephens said the spread of coronavirus in Australia was very different to how it was in other countries, such as the Netherlands.
“The way in which [COVID-19] is spreading in Australia, and the way in which our measures have contained it look nothing like it does in Europe,” Dr Stephens said.
“Australia is way ahead of the game.
“We will beat this together.”
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