Dr Jo Clapham, a senior emergency and critical care vet at Essendon’s Animal Referral Hospital, said the hospital’s ventilator, bought last year, could be immediately used on human patients.
“Our ventilators are regularly serviced. We would sterilise it before it’s used by humans but all the processes are the same as those in human hospitals,” Dr Clapham said.
“I’m proud that we’re able to help, that we can provide high-quality ventilators that would help get our communities through this crisis.”
On Wednesday the Victorian government announced $1.3 billion for medical equipment including thousands of ventilators for 4000 new intensive care beds.
Modelling in the Medical Journal of Australia released on Monday showed that while Australia could immediately increase its intensive care beds by 4231 beds, or 189 per cent, there would only be enough ventilators to meet a 120 per cent surge.
Dr Clapham said the demand for ventilators in her animal hospital fell through the winter as snake bites and tick paralysis become less common.
“We have other ventilators in our network that are suitable for pets but aren’t human grade, so we will still be able to care for our patients,” she said.
Dr James Carroll, director of emergency and critical care in Greencross’ 167 vet clinics across Australia, said his clinics were “very willing to help wherever we could”.
With thousands of student doctors volunteering to increase hospital capacity, the Medical Journal of Australia said vets could also operate ventilators in human hospitals if they were needed.
There could be thousands of coronavirus admissions to Victorian hospitals as the virus peaks in May or June.
“We’re not human doctors but we do have a lot of adaptability,” Dr Carroll said.
“We do a lot of ventilation for our patients, including tick paralysis, snake bites, pneumonia and heart failure. I’m not saying ‘yes, we want to ventilate all the human patients’, but if it was really needed we could assist where possible.”
Vets are still operating as essential services and Fiona Hall, business manager of the Essendon Animal Referral Hospital, said it was asking visitors to drop their pets at the door then wait in the car park.
“For pets that have to stay in the hospital we are providing owners with short videos, photos, anything we can. We can’t do visits at the moment,” Ms Hall said.
The restrictions also made for some “really sad” scenarios, she said.
“In terms of euthanasia, we are asking families to say their goodbyes before they bring their pet in. It’s along the lines of funerals for humans, it’s something we all have to deal with. It’s not easy for anybody.”
Michael is a reporter for The Age.