This article was written by Caitlin Cassidy for The Guardian, published Friday, January 21, 2022. To access the original article, click here.
Doctors and patients criticise state government decision to suspend procedures during Covid wave
When the La Trobe University lecturer Dr Yves Rees was told their gender affirmation surgery would be cancelled, they were devastated. “It was impossible to contemplate,” they said.
Rees’ procedure was scheduled for November, during the Delta wave, and was later reinstated when elective surgery was reintroduced in Victoria. But at the time, Rees was told there would be an eight-month wait for the procedure.
“There can be a perception gender affirmation surgeries are a choice, something people would prefer to do rather than not,” they said.
“That’s not correct; the reality is these are very much medically necessary surgeries …this can be the difference between a life of constant gender dysphoria and acute stress and anxiety, and a life of feeling good.”
Health experts warn delaying elective surgeries in Victoria, including gender affirmation procedures, will see blown out waiting lists spiral into a “massive healthcare crisis”.
On 5 January, the Victorian government announced elective surgery – except for “emergency and urgent” procedures – would be temporarily suspended to ease pressure on public and private hospitals amid the Omicron wave.
The changes came into effect from 6 January across Melbourne and major regional cities for a three-month period – to help hospitals manage record Covid-19 patients.
But on Thursday, IVF procedures were exempted from the restrictions following a social media backlash, with hospitals scaling up to resume procedures from 25 January.
Royal Australasian College of Surgeons president Dr Sally Langley said the recurring ban on elective surgery in Victoria had a “profound effect”. She wants a return of short-stay surgery in adequately-equipped hospitals and facilities.
“Across the board, all specialties have been affected. Urgent surgery too has seen waiting times longer than ideal because of staff shortages, staff illness and staff furlough,” she said.
“Victoria has already been through this with the bans on elective surgery in the last couple of years. There’ll be an even longer waiting list for important surgery and [patients] may well deteriorate.”
Langley said the term “elective surgery” encompassed “serious pressing” surgeries including painful mobility and arthritic problems that would be “significantly worse” within 30 days.
“We do know surgery can go ahead in a hospital that’s adequately staffed, where people are free of Covid,” she said.
“Surgeons and their teams should be working to keep up their skills. The longer periods of time they’re away from work, there’ll be some anxiety about maintenance of skills.”
A Victorian anaesthetist employed in the public and private sector said he welcomed the return of IVF but the current shutdown in clinical work had left him with a “very nasty taste” in his mouth.
“I don’t see a reason for the overwhelming shutdown of every sector of healthcare,” he said.
“Hospital and ICU beds are in short supply … so I can understand restricting surgery if those resources are required, but there’s a whole sector of day surgery procedures, where most of the patients never even see the inside of a ward or a hospital bed. Why can’t those operations carry on?”