Elective procedures cancelled, rules for GP visits

Doctors, hospitals and pharmacies throughout the South remain open following the raising of the Covid-19 alert level, but anyone needing medical assistance must phone ahead first.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern yesterday raised the national alert level to 3, and said it would then move to Level 4 by midnight tomorrow.

Essential services and urgent care will still be provided by the public health system, SDHB chief executive Chris Fleming said.

However, the SDHB had cancelled all outpatient services and elective surgery across the district.

"Where possible, we will use telehealth for consultations, which is where clinicians will use phone or video links to treat people in their own homes.

"In cases where it is essential to see a clinician, we will contact patients to arrange the best option for their treatment."

All hospitals would be accessible through one entrance only, and visitors would only be allowed to enter hospitals on compassionate grounds, Mr Fleming said.

The private sector was also cancelling elective operations, with Dunedin’s Mercy Hospital admitting its final patients today and planning to have discharged all patients by Thursday.

"That will create capacity for what we may be asked to do by the public system," chief executive Richard Whitney said.

"The nature of that support is yet to be finalised, but it could be a combination of undertaking non-discretionary surgery that the DHB will not be well situated to do, such as cancers, or it could be freeing up some staff to aid the workforce, or doing some acute patients such as fractures."

While not knowing what role Mercy might play, stopping electives freed up capacity for whatever might happen, Mr Whitney said.

Meanwhile, the SDHB was working to increase the number of intensive-care beds throughout the region, should they be needed by Covid-19 patients.

"Dunedin has 12 ICU beds and 12 ventilators and there are plans in place to increase this capacity by eight in the short term," Mr Fleming said.

"Hospitals have the flexibility to utilise other clinical areas as intensive-care beds if required, and plans are in place to do that."

Southland Hospital has 6 ICU beds and can comfortably sustain two ventilated patients short-term.

Lakes District Hospital does not have ICU beds, and sends patients on immediately after giving them urgent treatment.

GPs open for business today with new rules in place which mandate patients contact the practice beforehand to confirm if they need to be seen in person or not.

Patients who do need to be seen will be; others will be given assistance by phone.

Pharmacies are an essential service and remain open, although some have expressed concerns that not enough protective equipment has been made available to staff.

mike.houlahan@odt.co.nz

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