'Capsizing the lifeboat': Doctors warn healthcare system is at breaking point

Doctors have issued a dire warning to Australian leaders about the deteriorating health of our hospitals, as some states prepare to live with the wildly infectious Delta strain.

The Australian Medical Association has written to the prime minister, state premiers and chief ministers telling them the hospitals are not ready to cope with eased restrictions and they risk locking the health system into a “permanent cycle of crisis”.

“Even pre-COVID, emergency departments were full, ambulances ramped, and waiting times for elective surgery were too long,” AMA President Dr Omar Khorshid said.

General view of the Blacktown Hospital  in Sydney, Thursday, August 26, 2021. Source: AAP
The AMA has warned the health system is ill prepared for plans to open up. Source: AAP

Dr Khorshid called for new modelling to be developed to better understand hospital capacity in a Covid world.

“We must urgently prepare our health system before opening up and to do that we need new modelling based on our hospitals’ ability to cope with the associated increase in caseload.

“This modelling should contemplate all aspects of the impact of COVID-19 on our hospitals and primary care sector. Staffing, for instance, is already a significant problem right across the health sector, exacerbated by international border closures.”

AMA raises grave staffing concerns

AMA Vice President Chris Moy compared the situation to a lifeboat.

“We’re in the lifeboat, the safety net is when Covid comes,” he explained to Yahoo News.

“If you open up and you haven't looked at the safety nets, we might end up actually trying to push more people on the life rafts and capsizing them.

“We need to make sure the lifeboat can sustain it, or it will tip over.”

He criticised what he sees as a “she’ll be right” attitude among leaders, saying it’s not as simple as having enough ventilators and increased ICU capacity.

“The health system looks after a lot more people than just Covid patients,” he said.

“It’s not beds or ventilators, it’s the staff, it’s the people, it’s proper staffing.

“We have to make sure the hospital system can bare it and our view is it’s already full.”

Doctor holding oxygen ambu bag over patient given oxygen to patient by intubation tube in ICU/Emergency room. Source: Getty Images
AMA Vice President Chris Moy said the focus should be on staffing, not just beds and ventilators. Source: Getty Images.

In July, Prime Minister Scott Morrison unveiled a four-stage plan to open up when Australia hits 70-80 per cent vaccination.

Dr Moy believes the Doherty modelling, the plan is based on, should only be used as a guide.

“But don’t open up hell or high water,” he warned.

“Only open up when the health system can cope. Rather than say ‘she’ll be right’, actually make sure we are ready.”

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