Ongoing cancellations of elective surgeries at Bunbury Regional Hospital are reaching crisis point with whole lists of patients being cut due to a lack of theatre staff.

The Western Australian Country Health Service has asked surgeons to prioritise urgent category 1 cases, over boundary and patients close to boundary and delay all other patients if possible for the month of November, with further restrictions to continue.

Shadow Health Minister and Vasse MLA Libby Mettam said the ongoing cuts to elective surgeries were completely unacceptable and no doubt adding to the medical complexity of patient cases.

“The elective surgery restrictions were first imposed in July, then again in September and from November 1, I’ve been advised that the cuts will mean one theatre is out of action most days and is expected to remain that way until at least the start of next year,” Ms Mettam said.

“To have five months of interruptions and cancellations is astounding but to now also have to severely restrict access to theatres due to a lack of staff, without any COVID cases in the community, points to a Government that has been asleep at the wheel and one that is putting the health of regional patients further at risk.

“The cancellations of whole lists of scheduled patients, who may have been waiting many months for their surgery, is distressing for both surgical staff and patients alike.

“I’ve been advised that these restrictions have resulted in the cancellation of about 200 patients this month alone, with many more likely to be impacted on other lists in other theatres at the hospital as they are bumped or cancelled due to more urgent cases arising.

“For some patients the earliest they can be rescheduled is currently April next year. However, as more operating lists are cancelled, I’m advised the patient waiting times will blow out much further.”

Ms Mettam said the Bunbury situation added to historical restrictions across the region, with Margaret River Hospital’s operating theatre restrictions since 2019 as the facility did not meet current standards.

An operating theatre in Collie is also scheduled to close in early 2022 for theatre redevelopment.

“One surgeon has already had an entire list of Category 1 procedures cancelled and the reality is this closure will mean even more Category 1 surgeries are cancelled,” Ms Mettam said.

“There are also real concerns that the continual disruption in elective surgery will lead to more patients presenting at the Emergency Department requiring urgent surgery, putting further pressure on our hospitals which could be avoided if elective surgeries were operating as scheduled.

“The affected surgeons, which include orthopaedic and ear, nose and throat surgeons as well as gynaecologists and urologists, have been told to expect the theatre closure to continue into 2022 with the cancelled lists announced on a monthly basis, highlighting a very poor standard of patient care.

“These are patients, often in chronic pain, that are continually being told their surgeries aren’t important enough and they will have to continue to live with it while this government scrambles to fix an under-resourced health system.

“We now have a situation where the elective surgery waitlist has grown by more than 50% since the McGowan Labor Government came to office with 30,000 patients now waiting and the situation is seemingly getting worse.”