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'Overflow' hospitals and PPE theft: What's happening in Australian hospitals right now.

As the Australian community works towards flattening the coronavirus curve, our focus as a nation is on our country’s healthcare system, as we try to prepare it to cope with a growing number of sick.

The Morrison government has announced a $1.1 billion health package to deal with the COVID-19 crisis, however recent cuts to the industry could see hundreds of hospitals closing their doors in coming weeks.

650 private hospitals have been locked in crisis talks over the weekend, trying to come up with a solution with the government so they don’t have to leave critical ICU facilities un-utilised.

WATCH: Health Minister Greg Hunt on the Today Show this morning. Post continues after video. 

Video by Nine

Elective surgery cuts. 

The problems for private hospitals arose when the government announced the cutting back of elective surgeries last week.

Elective surgery is the biggest revenue stream for Australia’s private and Catholic hospitals, and without it many are looking at shutting their doors, with The Chronicle reporting it will put 100,000 critical health workers out of a job.

The restrictions affect 650 hospitals, all of which want to play their part in the fight against COVID-19 as their public counterparts work long, exhausting hours.

But they need government help if they’re to remain open.

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Australian Medical Association President Dr Tony Bartone told the Today Show, a deal was being discussed over the weekend and could be decided on as early as today.

“There is no way we can afford to lose all those beds, to lose in particular all of those ICU beds and indeed the staff, at this time as we approach an increasing crisis,” he stressed.

Michael Roff, CEO of the Australian Private Hospitals Association told The Chronicle: “The states don’t seem to understand the urgency of reaching a deal this weekend, if they don’t do that, the beds they need in a few weeks’ time may no longer be available”.

Access to supplies. 

The federal health minister says one of the reasons elective surgery was cancelled was because of the issues around a lack of personal protective equipment for doctors and nurses.

Speaking to the Today Show, Greg Hunt said: “We cancelled elective surgery because of the lack of PPE”.

“Probably two hours of every day of mine is focussed on the mask supplies, [and] the supplies of testing kits,” he added. 

The minister says they are looking at mask manufacturing in Australia and have “distributed over 8 million masks with more to come”. 

LISTEN: What four Australian healthcare workers want you to know today. Post continues after podcast.

Ventilators are the other concern, with only 2000 available for use right now.

Hunt says that’s being increased to 4000, and they’ve ordered a further 5000 to be developed.

There are just over 40 people in ICU around Australia, but with more coronavirus cases coming in every day, that figure will rise.

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One of the other things leading to a lack of supplies in hospitals is people stealing them.

Dr Andrew Rochford uploaded a video to Twitter yesterday explaining that he started his shift with 200 full disinfectant bottles, and by the end they had 10 bottles left.

“We found that someone had emptied one of these bottles and filled it with water. So for an entire shift there were medical workers sanitising their hands between patients with water,” said Dr Rochford. “You got to understand how dangerous that is.”

“I understand everyone’s scared and everyone’s stressed, but we need to keep the protective gear in the hospitals.”

What else is getting a funding boost?

The majority of the $1.1 billion in health funding is going towards expanding Medicare subsidies and increasing tele-health services.

The latter Greg Hunt told the Today Show is “10 years worth of work in 10 days,” and will include GP visits, and psychology and psychiatrist sessions over both the phone and video through Facetime and WhatsApp.

Greg Hunt
Greg Hunt on the Today Show. Image: Nine
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Dr Tony Bartone told the ABC tele-health will help reduce the demand on PPE.

The rest of the money is going towards mental health services and domestic violence services.

The Government said search engines such as Google were "seeing the highest magnitude of searches for domestic violence help that they have seen in the past five years with an increase of 75 per cent and some services are already reporting an increase in demand".

Field hospitals.

Seven reports The Melbourne Exhibition and Convention Centre (MCEC) are the field hospital options being considered in Victoria, with plans for it to potentially house about 500 beds equipped with ventilators and oxygen.

In Perth, the establishment of high level command centres in the empty Perth Stadium signals the WA government preparing to expand services there, reports the ABC.

NEWS: MAR 23 Coronavirus in Perth
Stadiums are being readied to be used as potential field hospitals. Image: Getty.
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Tasmania is reportedly looking at accommodation facilities for their sick, should they need it.

Queensland is assessing whether an unfinished hospital will be used, and South Australia is bringing two decommissioned hospitals back online.

A NSW Health spokesperson told newsGP the state is planning to expand hospital capacity and use private accommodation if necessary.

The good news. 

Our rate of infection in Australia seems to be slowing - down to nine per cent compared to 25 per cent last week.

"What we are seeing are positive signs of flattening the curve," said Health Minister Greg Hunt. 

"Now we have to see that continue which is exactly why we have had to take these agonising measures for the country in terms of two people at a time or a family group or household, the no movement restrictions and I am so desperately, desperately sorry that we have had to do this but we are doing this to save lives," he told Today.

Dr Tony Bartone stressed that "this is a long fight," pointing out that this isn't over any time soon.

"Is it not next week, it is not just next month, but it is for many months to come," he told Today hosts Karl Stefanovic and Allison Langdon.

Feature image: Twitter/Dr Andrew Rochford.

To protect yourself and the community from COVID-19, keep at least 1.5 metres away from other people, regularly wash your hands and avoid touching your face.
If you are sick and believe you have symptoms of COVID-19, call your GP ahead of time to book an appointment. Or call the national Coronavirus Health Information Line for advice on 1800 020 080. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, call 000.
To keep up to date with the latest information, please visit the Department of Health website.

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