Elective Surgery and Intensive Care at Wollongong Hospital

20 March 2020
COVID-19 updates

The Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District response to COVID-19 is moving to an increased level of preparedness, with moves now underway to build intensive care capacity at Wollongong Hospital, starting with changes to elective surgery from next week.

Chief Executive, Margot Mains, said there will be no change to Wollongong’s emergency and trauma theatres as well as urgent surgery cases. Cases will be prioritised by clinicians from Wednesday 25 March.

“This move will free up staff usually working in, or support of, theatre to immediately undertake more specialised training so they may be redeployed to work in intensive care, where the plan is designed to double our current capacity,” she said.

“It applies to non-urgent cases, mainly urology and orthopaedics. We are now working closely with our clinicians to prioritise these cases. We are also liaising with private providers to undertake these elective surgeries in their facilities, helping to minimise the impact on those currently waiting for a procedure,” said Ms Mains.

Seven remaining theatres at Wollongong will be shared amongst all specialities including neurosurgery, endoscopy and vascular surgery enabling urgent and emergency cases to be prioritised. C-section lists will remain and ECT and bone marrow biopsy will also continue as normal.

Elective surgery at Shellharbour will carry on as normal at this stage, and significant plans are now being finalised for the approach at Shoalhaven, with further information to be provided as it becomes available next week.

Wollongong Hospital will increase its current Intensive Care Unit (ICU) to 25 beds by Monday 23 March in a two pod configuration. This will allow for a dedicated COVID ICU and non-COVID ICU, to be completely isolated from each other. Should it be required, the hospital will have capacity to create a second ICU with additional capacity of up to 21 beds by the end of the month.

“We are planning for scenarios that include staff unavailability due to sickness or carer duties at any point in time, which makes the cancellation of elective surgery to focus on training and redeployment so vital at this time. It means our intensive care services are as prepared as possible,” said Ms Mains.

A reminder that all hospitals in the District have this week implemented a limit on visitors to a maximum of two at any one time. The community is being urged to support one another by practicing good hand hygiene, good cough etiquette and most importantly, staff and visitors should stay home if they are unwell.

“I know these are challenging times but the community can be assured that the District is doing absolutely everything humanly possible to protect and maintain the health of the people of the Illawarra and Shoalhaven,” said Ms Mains.

“We are in the best position possible to deal with the increased demand and with cases of COVID-19 and we will continue to keep the community updated as information becomes available,” she said.

“I also want to assure our community that we have leadership teams with amazing skill, robust determination to consider every available option in our COVID-19 planning and I have upmost confidence that our facilities and staff are as prepared as we can be for the months ahead,” said Ms Mains.