Elective surgeries delayed as COVID patient numbers rise

Warrnambool's Alex Priebbenow with partner James and daughter Isla, 3, and Oliver, 13 months.

Warrnambool's Alex Priebbenow with partner James and daughter Isla, 3, and Oliver, 13 months.

DELAYS in surgeries through the COVID-19 pandemic are taking a personal toll for patients.

South West Victorian Alex Priebbenow's 13-month-old son Oliver was due to get surgery in the next month to help with ongoing ear infections.

They have been waiting two months for the category two procedure for the issue he has been experiencing since he was eight months old.

"He's been on antibiotics for five-and-a-half months," Ms Priebbenow said. "He's partially deaf because of it, his ears are so infected because he needs draining tubes and his speech has been impacted too.

"He wakes every two to three hours with it each night and it affects all of us."

With a three-year-old as well, Ms Priebbenow, from Warrnambool, was looking forward to the surgery that would see an end to the sleepless nights and constant pain for her son, who also suffers from other health issues including asthma and allergies.

His poor health has seen 10 trips to the Warrnambool Base Hospital in the last 12 months.

"It's not good for his gut health to stay on that medication, we have been waiting and he is finally eligible because he is old enough now and yet we have to wait longer," she said.

"He's landed in hospital with a basic cold before so it does make you worry about what would happen if he caught COVID.

"It sucks but it's got to be harder for the healthcare workers."

Ms Priebbenow knows all too well the impact on the healthcare workforce, and feels for the hardworking staff at the hospital.

"I'm a chiropractor myself and I can't get ahold of a rapid antigen test," she said. " I could easily contract it from a patient and bring it home to my family.

"I've lost work with people cancelling because they are sick, elderly or have a compromised immune system, because I can't do a rapid antigen test to assure them.

"It sucks he will have to wait a little longer for Oliver's surgery, but if it helps take the pressure off our hospitals and the already overworked and exhausted staff then it's worth the wait.

"This is what living with COVID is; cancelled surgeries and busy hospitals. This is very real and this is why we all need to get vaccinated and stay home if we're sick, it's the best thing to do."

Elective surgeries have been delayed at the Warrnambool Base Hospital to respond to the increasing number of patients with coronavirus. Picture: Morgan Hancock

Elective surgeries have been delayed at the Warrnambool Base Hospital to respond to the increasing number of patients with coronavirus. Picture: Morgan Hancock

Another south-west patient told The Standard his regular colonoscopy was now two years overdue due to COVID-19 cancellations which he says is worrying given his family medical history.

"This could easily be a death notice," he said.

Brett Johnston was booked in for a category two procedure at South West Healthcare on January 14.

"I've been waiting 12 months now and it's cancelled again," he said. "Even with private health cover. So frustrating."

IN OTHER NEWS:

Chief executive Craig Fraser asked the community to be patient.

"I apologise for the impact this has on people who had surgery planned as this was never our intention when the surgeries were scheduled," Mr Fraser said.

"This change is required due to the current COVID situation, to ensure we can continue to perform our critical functions and wherever possible reduce the spread of COVID-19.

"We will reschedule these appointments as soon as possible and will be in contact with all affected patients. If a person who has had their operation cancelled and feel their conditions have significantly deteriorated, please contact your specialist."

In October 2021 Barwon Health took on SWH's COVID-19 positive patients as part of a state-wide hospital streaming system aimed at helping some health services to have no COVID admissions and to return to normal business operations.

However, SWH has always been able to admit COVID-19 patients if necessary, Mr Fraser said.

"However due to the relatively few people needing admission from Victoria's south-west, it was better to ensure people were treated at Barwon Health in a COVID-specific environment.

"This allowed South West Healthcare to continue with our elective surgery lists and to avoid the need to re-establish COVID specific wards and separate our staffing teams meaning all areas could focus on core business with minimal service reductions."

Port Fairy's Storm Murdoch-Argyle waited 18 months for surgery and is thankful to have had the procedure done before Victoria's last lockdown in June 2021.

Warrnambool's Kate O'Brien said she was grateful her husband's category one procedure was still going ahead.

"The hospital have already contacted him to reassure him it will still be going ahead," she said.

"Unfortunately this is the reality of living in a pandemic. Things are constantly changing [and] we need to adapt. It is exhausting [and] frustrating, but not much we can do.

"Sympathy to all those whose surgeries have been cancelled."

This story 'Cancelled again': Patients tell of toll as elective surgeries delayed first appeared on The Standard.