The federal government has re-activated an agreement with private hospitals that could see thousands of beds freed up to take COVID-19 patients from public hospitals in a bid to ease the burden on the health system.
- The federal Health Minister says up to 57,000 nurses from the private sector will be made available to help
- An agreement struck earlier in the pandemic will also include extra resources for aged care facilities
- Public health systems in areas with COVID-19 Omicron outbreaks are being overwhelmed as cases continue to rise
When the pandemic first began — and there were fears the system would be overwhelmed — the government struck a deal with private hospitals nation-wide to gain access to beds and extra staff.
In return, the Commonwealth agreed to support private hospitals while elective surgeries — their main form of income — were cancelled.
Facing a real surge in cases thanks to Omicron, Health Minister Greg Hunt announced the agreement would be re-started.
“The private hospitals agreement will see up to 57,000 nurses and [more than] 100,000 staff made available to Omicron-affected areas around the country,” he said.
“It’s a workforce which is skilled, planned, appropriate and available.
“They are clinically trained, they are expert [staff].”
Mr Hunt also said the agreement meant there would be extra help available for aged care facilities that needed extra staff and resources.
As well as staff, one of the other crucial resources private hospitals have to offer are beds in ICU.
A surge in COVID-19 cases from the Omicron strain has been weighing on nearly all state and territory health systems.
In Victoria, the government has issued a statewide Code Brown, which could see health staff have their leave postponed and non-essential services deferred.
The emergency setting is usually reserved for external emergencies, such as natural disasters, and is a way of the streamlining the health system’s emergency management in response to a growing number of people in hospitals.
Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly noted that planning for the situation currently facing the Australian hospital system had been underway since the beginning of the pandemic.
“This is the first time that the health system has come under pressure to the extend that we’re seeing in the last week or two,” he said.
But, he indicated, it looked like the worst would soon be over.
“I said on the weekend, and I stand by those statements, that we are either at or close to the peak of this in certain states.”