Premier Daniel Andrews said an “in-principle” agreement had been reached with private hospitals to help the public sector cope if it was forced to deal with an influx of coronavirus patients.
Private-sector nurses have been laid off at some health services interstate, but on Monday Mr Andrews said the government would ensure private hospitals in Victoria remained viable.
“We can’t have them close, we can’t have staff being stood down,” he said.
The Premier said the Victorian government would “purchase beds and care” from private providers to treat public patients whether they had health insurance or not.
He said the arrangement would mean there is one health system providing the “highest level of care”.
Nurses at the Epworth HealthCare and Cabrini health services will join the Health Department’s COVID-19 contact tracing team.
Cabrini chief executive Sue Williams said the Catholic hospital was employing more doctors and nurses in response to the expected influx of COVID-19 patients.
She said staff who had been seconded to the Department of Health would return to Cabrini to provide clinical care if there was a sudden surge in coronavirus patients.
“Cabrini will be assisting public hospitals by performing urgent category-one surgeries, as needed,” Ms Williams said.
“Cabrini will be assisting in the response to coronavirus by providing additional surge capacity to manage the influx of COVID patients expected throughout the coming weeks.”
Epworth HealthCare group chief executive Lachlan Henderson said the service had reached an agreement with the state government to ensure a “coordinated state-wide response” to the pandemic.
“The funding agreement ensures Epworth can maintain its capacity while preparing for the expected pandemic surge in the weeks ahead,” he said.
“Importantly, the agreement will also guarantee sufficient supplies of personal protective equipment to protect patients, staff and doctors at all Epworth sites.”
Victoria’s infection rate had reached 821 by Monday morning with the disease claiming four lives. New restrictions from midnight ban gatherings of more than two people except for immediate households or for education or work.
Victorian Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said Victoria had a “window of opportunity” to save lives.
“This is our time to do the right thing to avoid transmission because now when levels are relatively low is a point where we can totally flatten that curve,” he said.
Dr Sutton said cases in Australia could be capped at 10,000 or 15,000 with rigorous social distancing.
Last week The Age revealed the Melbourne Convention Centre and Royal Exhibition Building may be converted into hospitals if more capacity is required in the health system.
Benjamin is a state political reporter
Sumeyya is a state political reporter for The Age.