Thinking | 25 March 2020

Australian Government cancels elective surgery in public and private hospitals

By Alison Choy Flannigan

Updated 26 March: There are reports that elective surgery can continue in private hospitals until midnight 1 April 2020. We are following this closely and will continue to keep you updated.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced that all non-urgent elective surgery will be temporarily suspended from 11.59 pm (local time) on 25 March 2020 in both public and private hospitals.

Only Category 1 and some exceptional Category 2 surgery will continue until further notice.

Acting on the advice of the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, Mr Morrison said that by cancelling certain elective surgeries, the National Cabinet ‘is acting to preserve resources, including protective equipment, to help prepare public and private health services to prepare for their role in the COVID-19 outbreak’.

Every patient waiting for elective surgery is assessed by their treating medical professional as Category 1, 2 or 3 per the following definitions:

  • Category 1 – Needing treatment within 30 days. Has the potential to deteriorate quickly to the point where the patient’s situation may become an emergency
  • Category 2 – Needing treatment within 90 days. Their condition causes pain, dysfunction or disability. Unlikely to deteriorate quickly and unlikely to become an emergency
  • Category 3 – Needing treatment at some point in the next year. Their condition causes pain, dysfunction or disability. Unlikely to deteriorate quickly.

Decisions on the category of patients are at the discretion of their treating medical professional.

This will cause some disruption at short notice to private hospitals and patients.

We have seen in other jurisdictions, including in Spain, governments calling upon the assistance of private health providers in the war against COVID-19. Therefore, we expect more outsourcing arrangements to occur.

This article is up to date as at 25 March 2020


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Alison Choy Flannigan

Alison Choy Flannigan

Partner & Leader, Health & Community

Alison specialises in advising clients in the health, aged care, disability, life sciences and community sectors. 

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