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Hospitals prepare emergency plans for ICU operations to reach ‘overwhelming’ status

There are four children under the age of 12 being treated for COVID in intensive care. In the past two weeks, 2200 children aged nine and under have been diagnosed with the virus.

The Burnet’s modelling suggests the estimated ICU bed occupancy in Sydney’s worst areas will peak at 947 by November. More than half, or 560 beds, will be taken up by COVID patients under the model.

Ms Berejiklian said the state had a surge capacity of up to 2000 ventilators and 1550 fully staffed ICU beds.

Professor Margaret Hellard, an infectious disease physician and director at the Burnet, a medical research organisation, and who worked on the NSW modelling, said the models released on Monday related only to the 12 areas of concern in Sydney’s south-west and western suburbs and looked at the “impact of enhanced vaccination”.

Professor Hellard confirmed there was broader modelling which the government did not release.

The Premier said she released the modelling, which is based on data as of August 23, “so the public has confidence that our system has been preparing, the system is ready”.

“All the planning means you prepare for more than what you think you need, to make sure that if things go a different way than what you anticipated, everybody’s covered,” she said.

While the modelling does not consider the easing of restrictions when NSW reaches 70 to 80 per cent vaccination, Ms Berejiklian said freedoms at that time would be only for fully vaccinated people.

“When we do open up 70 per cent, anyone who interacts with each other will be completely vaccinated so that massively reduces the chance of anybody requiring hospitalisation. So, [the projections] are what we best anticipate will occur,” she said.

Canterbury-Bankstown and Cumberland continue to have the highest number of cases but Deputy Premier John Barilaro said the curfews in south-western and western Sydney have not worked, and were introduced only following media pressure.

Mr Barilaro said he would not support a curfew for Dubbo despite rising case numbers.

“So the idea of a curfew is one that was put in place in an area that was so out of control and you would question its ability to work and if you look at the numbers since we put the curfew in, nothing has occurred, nothing has changed – numbers continue to rise,” he said.

He said a curfew in Dubbo would do “nothing more than hurt the wellbeing of that community”.

His comments followed calls from NSW Labor leader Chris Minns to end the curfews in hotspot areas. Mr Minns on Monday added that there was no health advice to impose such a curfew.

NSW Health deputy secretary Susan Pearce said modelling was always an estimate of a point in time but expressed confidence in the projections so far.

“We’ll see whether or not it continues at the moment. But just with a ruler, to me, it’s still looking very accurate in terms of that trajectory up that line,” she said.

“We have to be realistic about the fact that there will be days when things are incredibly challenging, depending on where the calls come from.”

Dr Nhi Nguyen, clinical director of the Intensive Care Network NSW, said the fact some patients had been diverted between hospitals was a sign that the system was working.

“It is recognition that to provide the best and timely care for those patients is actually not at an ambulance, you know, in the driveway of an ED, it may be that it is to divert across the city,” she said.

Dr Nhi Nguyen from Nepean Hospital says the surge period will be like a “half marathon” for staff.

Dr Nhi Nguyen from Nepean Hospital says the surge period will be like a “half marathon” for staff.Credit:Edwina Pickles

According to the Burnet modelling, daily cases are expected to continue rising in hotspots to about 1100 to 2000 cases until mid-September when vaccine immunity is expected to kick in alongside ongoing restrictions.

A peak in hospital and ICU admission will follow, with between 2200 and 3900 people expected to require hospitalisation.

The total estimated peak hospitalisations of COVID and non-COVID patients will reach 3434 at the end of October before declining to about 2625 by the end of November.

Unions said they were awaiting further details on how the projected surge plan would work.

“We’re seeking further information around what the plan specifically means regarding numbers of patients nurses will be expected to care for, how the nursing teams will be configured, and where these 2000 upskilled nurses are,” NSW Nurses and Midwives Association general secretary Brett Holmes said.

Australian Paramedics Association NSW vice-president Scott Beaton said paramedics were concerned about the impact on response times if an increasing number of critically ill patients would need to be diverted between hospitals across Sydney.

Professor Alexandra Martiniuk, a University of Sydney epidemiologist and honorary senior research fellow at the George Institute for Global Health, said it also “would be nice to have a fuller picture” of predicted case numbers across Sydney.

In recent weeks, the virus has directly spread from residents of the 12 local government areas of concern to Newcastle, Dubbo and a party in Maroubra, in Sydney’s east.

“We’ve got a very educated public and people are following the restrictions – the more transparent government can be about the modelling the better,” she said.

with Pallavi Singhal

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