'Never seen it like this’: Doctor warns Australia is headed for crisis

Australian lives will be at risk this winter as the overburdened health system strains under the pressure of a “double whammy” of viruses.

With Covid case numbers still high, and the flu ravaging communities across the country, the Australian Medical Association (AMA) says the situation has never been this dire.

“We’re certainly seeing experienced clinicians saying that they have never seen the health system like this,” AMA President Dr Omar Khorshid told Yahoo News Australia.

“The problem we have is a public hospital system that was already completely full prior to the pandemic, that is now facing the double whammy of high numbers of Covid cases plus a substantial, entirely predictable flu epidemic for the first time in a couple of years.”

“On top of that, you’ve also got a lot of workers who’ve had to be absent from work due to contracting those viruses themselves and of course you’ve got resignations due to burnout and fatigue.”

A busy hospital ward
Staff on the frontline will struggle to cope with backed up systems this winter, the AMA warns. Source: Getty

Aussies waiting for surgery may have to live with 'significant' pain

Dr Khorshid is warning of a “really tough winter” ahead, particularly for doctors and nurses at the frontline in emergency departments.

But he says any patient who attends a hospital or needs to call an ambulance is going to experience a system under extraordinary pressure.

“Once you’re in that emergency department, you’ll see a chaotic environment with overworked and overburdened staff doing their best to cope through a system that is just jammed up from front door to back door,” he said.

“For Australians waiting for life saving or quality of life altering elective surgery, they’re going to be waiting longer than has been the case in recent memory, and potentially living with a significant pain or disability for longer than is clinically recommended or really reasonable in a first world country.”

Outside an emergency department
The AMA warns emergency departments will be overrun this winter with a 'double whammy' of viruses taking hold of the country. Source: Getty

Complacency warning: 'Covid is still killing people'

Despite the pressure on the health system, many medical experts fear the pandemic has disappeared from the minds of many Australians.

“People have kind of forgotten about Covid, they sort of think it’s all passed, but Covid is still there, it is still killing people, and influenza will also unfortunately kill a lot of people over the next six months,” Tony Fitzgerald, CEO of Avicena Systems, told Yahoo News Australia.

The WA company has created a technology that can screen for a wide range of different pathogens, not just Covid, including dengue, hepatitis B, malaria and influenza.

Mr Fitzgerald says screening patients for a wider range of viruses will help alleviate pressure on health systems as people can start treatment much sooner.

A man receives is Covid test by a medical professional
Covid testing has come into question with calls for greater screening of other viruses as the flu epidemic surges. Source: Getty

“There are now treatments for both flu and for Covid, antivirals for both, but they need to be taken within the first 72 hours, so if you don’t know which one it is, and you don’t detect it quickly, you can’t utilise the correct medication.”

With Anthony Albanese due to meet with state and territory leaders for the first time next Friday since taking office, the AMA is calling for Covid to be on top of the agenda.

“Covid is still here, it is still having a very significant impact on the lives of many Australians and we require a nationally coordinated, well thought out and evidence based approach in order to make sure that we minimise the stresses on the health system,” Dr Khorshid said.

“They need to work together to deal with the ongoing impacts of the pandemic and not just pretend the pandemic doesn’t exist but actually get out there to promote vaccinations, do whatever public health measures are necessary in order to slow transmissions in the community, to make sure people are getting access to antivirals.”

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