Vic health system 'weathering' COVID storm

·3-min read

Slightly fewer Victorians are awaiting elective surgery amid one of the state's worst winters on record due to a horror flu season and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Victoria's wait list for elective procedures has fallen from a revised 88,920 to 87,275 after the June quarter, according to new data released on Saturday.

It comes after some Victorian hospitals, including The Alfred and Bendigo Health, delayed or cancelled surgeries in mid-July amid the nation's third Omicron wave.

Any potential impact of their decisions will therefore not be reflected until the next quarterly data batch.

Health Minister Mary-Anne Thomas says there was a 48 per cent rise in the number of planned surgeries in Victoria in the three months to June compared to the March quarter.

That roughly equates to an extra 20,000 procedures.

"We're in the midst of a record-breaking period of demand on our health system but this latest data shows we are weathering the storm and building a system that will be stronger than ever," Ms Thomas told reporters in Melbourne.

"All our healthcare workers are doing an incredible job under challenging circumstances and this government is ensuring they have all the support they need, to give Victorians the care they deserve faster."

Ms Thomas says there's no quick fix but the government's $12 billion pandemic repair plan and $1.5 billion COVID-19 catch-up initiative are starting to have an impact.

While fewer people were waiting for elective surgery than three months ago, opposition health spokeswoman Georgie Crozier noted there were 21,000 more people on the waiting list than at the same time last year.

"That is 21,000 more Victorians waiting in pain with their health deteriorating," she said.

Meanwhile, Ambulance Victoria has experienced the busiest quarter for code one call-outs in its history, up 16 per cent compared to the same period last year.

The quarter is also the third in succession to break demand records, Ms Thomas says.

Even so, 64 per cent of the 97,928 code ones recorded were responded to within 15 minutes.

Ambulance Victoria interim boss Felicity Topp says the numbers show responses continue to be impacted by the wide spread of Omicron, sicker patients who have deferred care and staff furloughing.

"There are no signs of demand slowing down. COVID-19 continues to pose a high risk to Victorians and will do for some time," she said.

Victorian Healthcare Association's Juan Paolo Legaspi says extreme demand appears to be the new norm and it is time for government to do more to address the system's shortcomings.

"We can't just keep asking healthcare workers to 'keep on going' when we know this won't be the last wave of COVID," the policy and advocacy head said.

"There used to be seasonal peaks and troughs in the intensity of work for our healthcare workers (but) this data shows we are in an unprecedented era of intense demand."

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