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Private surgeries in NSW suspended to free up staff and resources

About 14 per cent of NSW’s public intensive care beds are occupied by patients with COVID-19 as private hospitals are told to reduce elective surgery intakes to free up staff and resources.

NSW Health Deputy Secretary Paul Minns on Wednesday wrote to private hospitals asking 40 “critical operators”, including Royal North Shore Private, St Vincent’s Private and Westmead Private to stop non-urgent elective surgery and others not to increase their daily volume of elective surgery.

St Vincent’s Private is among 40 hospitals which has been told not to perform non-urgent elective surgery during the Sydney COVID-19 breakout.

St Vincent’s Private is among 40 hospitals which has been told not to perform non-urgent elective surgery during the Sydney COVID-19 breakout.Credit:James Brickwood

“Private hospital staff will help support the large-scale vaccination effort currently under way and support workforce demands in the NSW public health system,” NSW Health said in a statement.

The decision affects category two, three and four elective surgeries, such as shoulder and knee replacements or cataract extractions. Urgent elective surgery and emergency surgery will continue.

The Herald understands the ministry is in discussions with private hospital operators about additional support measures for the COVID-19 response that could include providing additional beds or wards for public sector use.

All BreastScreen clinics across NSW will close on Thursday, with staff to be redeployed by local health districts to the pandemic effort.

Dr Anthony Holley, president of the Australian and New Zealand Intensive Care Society, said NSW had 622 public hospital ICU beds. According to the society’s data, at 5pm Wednesday there were 85 COVID-19 patients in intensive care. The private system has an additional 237 beds.

“Intensive care doctors are very concerned about the ongoing influx of cases and the fact that the average length of stay is about two weeks,” Dr Holley said, noting the focus is on opening more beds and expanding the floor space in ICU.

Non-urgent surgery had already been suspended in public hospitals amid ongoing exposures in wards which have furloughed hundreds of staff over the past two weeks.

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