The cancellation of almost 2000 elective surgeries in the last two months is yet another sign of a health system struggling to cope, according to Shadow Minister for Health Libby Mettam.

“It’s absolutely shocking, that with no COVID-19 cases in the community, that we are in this situation,” Ms Mettam said.

The new figures, revealed during budget estimates in the Legislative Council today, show 585 elective surgeries were cancelled in September.

This is in addition to the 1051 cancelled in the metropolitan area and 353 surgeries cancelled in the WA Country Health Service in August.

“This is not an unforeseeable issue, but it is one that the WA Labor Government have been putting on the backburner for the past four years,” Ms Mettam said.

“Despite all the government COVID-related spin, the elective surgery waitlist has blown out by almost 50 per cent under the WA Labor Government since 2017, with the number of cases consistently around 28-30,000 for more than a year.

“Many of these patients are in debilitating pain and to delay their surgery often adds to the acuity of their condition and also continues to impact their everyday lives, including their ability to work.

“If the system is already under so much pressure and struggling to keep up with demand without any COVID-19 community cases, it raises real concerns about WA’s preparedness to deal with an outbreak when it inevitably comes.”

The latest figures come after recent concerns were raised about WA’s ICU bed capacity and its staff shortages across critical areas.

“We already have the lowest ICU beds per capita (6 per 100,000) and while the government says there are 300 extra ventilators to deal with an outbreak they haven’t outlined where those beds will come from and if there are appropriately-trained staff to care for a surge in ICU patients.

“Today’s estimates process revealed that there are general shortages across all areas, including ICU, psychiatry, theatre nurses, and midwives and that the upskilling of healthcare workers had started.

“There was very little detail, however, on how many staff are being upskilled and when they will be appropriately trained.”

Ms Mettam said there was also real concern critical care and post operative beds would be used in any surge, further adding to elective surgery cancellations, and that patient care could be compromised.

“Recent research shows that during COVID-19 outbreaks in the United States and Europe outcomes for patients who required intensive care were significantly poorer if ICUs needed to adopt “surge”.

“This government has had 20 months to prepare for an outbreak, yet they are only now trying to make sure they are upskilling staff and have not been able to detail a plan of where the extra ICU beds will come from.

“It’s completely unacceptable and shows a government that has been lulled into a false sense of security while we’re in lockdown without any real plan of how we re-open.”

*The Medical Journal of Australia –13 October 2021 – Increasing ICU capacity to accommodate higher demand during the COVID-19 pandemic.