Canberra lockdown: Elective surgery may be scaled back to help meet Covid demand

Pearle Taverner worked as a nurse at Canberra Hospital for 35 years, she has volunteered to return to help the COVID-19 resonse. Picture: Karleen Minney
Pearle Taverner worked as a nurse at Canberra Hospital for 35 years, she has volunteered to return to help the COVID-19 resonse. Picture: Karleen Minney

Hundreds of nurses have heeded the call to arms to aid a stretched health workforce, as the Delta variant of COVID-19 proves the game has been changed and authorities determine what services can be sidelined to ease pressure.

Canberra Health Services interim chief executive Dave Peffer said a decision on whether elective surgery should be pulled back may need to be made in the next 24 to 48 hours.

Mr Peffer said that with more than 700 healthcare staff in quarantine or isolation, the effect on services was compounding.

"We are surging to support the testing effort across the city, we are scaling our vaccination efforts and looking to support a mass vaccination hub, opening in the coming weeks," he said.

Pathology collection clinics at Gungahlin and the University of Canberra have been temporarily closed.

BreastScreen ACT has also been closed, while a statement on its website notes clients who have had a mammogram recently will have further assessment if required.

"All women currently due for their routine mammogram will be contacted when the service is able to resume full service provision," it said.

More than 360 Canberrans with a nursing background have responded to the call to arms to return to work to aid the struggling system.

Interim Canberra Health Services chief executive Dave Peffer. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

Interim Canberra Health Services chief executive Dave Peffer. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

But the gap grows daily, Mr Peffer said.

"We have to start considering those elective activities and what we might slow down or switch off," he said.

Emergency surgery and category one patients remain a priority but Mr Peffer said the focus would be on scaling back category two and three, and moving specialist outpatient activity to Telehealth, or stop it all together.

"When you run a system as busy as we are ... fatigue does start to set in and that's why we're throwing everything we can at the recruitment drive," he said.

The response from health services had gone above and beyond what had been planned for, Mr Peffer said.

"We planned for something much more modest, to be honest," he said.

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"The teams have under promised and over delivered on every front ... I haven't seen a response like that in any other jurisdiction."

When asked if the ACT could have done more to prepare earlier Mr Peffer said no, the Delta strain changed everything.

"[In 2020] we had nowhere near the number of exposure sites and healthcare workers in quarantine as we did the first time round," he said.

"Delta has proven to be very, very different to March and April of last year."

The Garran surge centre, where thousands of people are vaccinated each week was originally designed to be an extra emergency department for COVID-19 patients.

Mr Peffer said there are currently no plans to revert it but that could change in the weeks ahead.

"If we do need to activate that because of the level of presentations that we're seeing of Covid positive or Covid suspect patients, then we do have the ability to do that quite rapidly."

Pearle Taverner has returned to the workforce to help with the COVID-19 response. Picture: Karleen Minney.

Pearle Taverner has returned to the workforce to help with the COVID-19 response. Picture: Karleen Minney.

After a 35-year career as a registered nurse at Canberra Hospital, Pearle Taverner who retired from the profession two years ago, is among 360 residents who have responded to a callout to help the fight against COVID-19.

Ms Taverner watched on as her friends and family working at the hospital struggled to cope with skyrocketing demand for their services as COVID-19 re-emerged in the territory.

"It's been quite difficult [to see], and that's why I put my hand up to say, I'm not registered anymore but I can do something else," she said.

Although her registration to practice clinical roles has lapsed, Ms Taverner is going through the process to renew it, in the meantime she is helping recruit even more nursing staff.

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This story 'I can do something': Hundreds of nurses heed call to arms first appeared on The Canberra Times.