There have been calls for Victoria and NSW to relax elective surgery bans in recent weeks. IVF treatments have resumed in Victoria, after indignation at their inclusion in the surgery pause. A petition to restart cleft procedures started by NSW mother Kate Blackett has garnered thousands of signatures.
Ms Blackett’s ten-month-old son, Jensen, was born with a bilateral cleft lip and palate. 1 in 700 babies are born with cleft conditions. Jensen was scheduled for his second surgery in February, meant to repair his palate. This has now been cancelled under the pause on ‘non-urgent’ elective surgeries in NSW.
The hiatus came into effect on January 8th, placing a moratorium on non-urgent surgeries until mid-February. Category 3 elective surgeries are currently suspended across NSW. Victoria has enforced a similar policy from the 6th of January, pausing all category 2 and 3 surgeries.
Australian health services define ‘elective’ surgeries as operations that are non-emergency. Elective surgeries are medically necessary but can be delayed by 24 hours or more. These types of surgeries are then split into three categories depending on the timeframe they must be completed in.
Despite being labelled ‘semi-urgent’, and ‘non-urgent’, elective surgeries in categories 2 and 3 are still crucial for many Australians. Jensen’s cleft palate surgery is one such example.
Ms Blackett told 9News, “I’m disappointed that it feels like [Jensen’s] situation is not important enough, it’s taken a huge emotional toll on our family going through this journey.” Many sympathisers have left comments on the petition, agreeing that “surgeries need to continue for cleft babies so they don’t become delayed developmentally.”
The suspension of elective surgeries has come as a result of the staggering case numbers in NSW and Victoria. Thousands of patients fill ICU beds and flock to hospitals, preventing healthcare workers from giving non-COVID patients the attention they need.
We’ve seen crippling ambulance shortages for months, and many pre-operative patients don’t have access to RAT tests to prove their COVID status.
Head of the NSW branch of the AMA, Dr Danielle McCullen, says the current strategy of ‘making space for COVID’ by pausing other healthcare is unsustainable. The futures of children like Jensen are caught up in a compromise many have called avoidable.
As Shadow Health Minister Ryan Park has stated, “you know you have a system at breaking point when young children have their surgery cancelled.”
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