‘Code brown’: Crisis set to hit other states

Chief medical officer Paul Kelly said Victoria had activated the code – which will mean some annual leave is cancelled, outpatient services are relocated and elective surgery cancelled – in anticipation of the impact high Covid-19 case numbers could soon have on the public hospital network. He said he anticipated other parts of Australia could soon follow that path as hospitalisations related to the Omicron peak surge. As of Tuesday night, there were 5238 people in hospitals with Covid-19 across the country – up from 2523 two weeks ago. ICU numbers are up significantly too, with 419 people in intensive care, compared to 194 on January 5.Professor Kelly said all hospital systems – other than Western Australia – were being affected by the Omicron wave and a code brown would help alleviate pressure. “We do have plenty of capacity… There is not a public hospital system in the country that has reached their ‘level of concern’ which is their own level that they set for hospitalisations,” Professor Kelly told ABC Radio. “ICU is under pressure, particularly in Victoria, but again there’s plenty of room there.”Professor Kelly also sought to allay fears about what a code brown actually is, offering an example of when he had declared a code while ACT’s chief health officer due to a salmonella outbreak. “A code brown just means that there is an external threat which may lead to a surge in hospital admissions, and we know what that external threat is – it’s Covid-19,” professor Kelly said. “By calling a code brown, it is very clear to the hospital sector in Victoria exactly what is needed and those things were outlined.”Professor Kelly said the move was key in ensuring the country’s hospital systems could cope as hospital numbers continue to increase. “We will be able to cope, and that’s exactly what the Australian people should be expecting of all governments and all health systems to be able to make those plans which we’ve done, to have those break-glass issues like the Private Hospital Guarantee and implement them as soon as they are needed and to raise it to a new level when that’s required,” he said.Health Minister Greg Hunt said at a Tuesday afternoon press conference that Victoria being the first state to call a code brown was not to do with bad governance. “Let me be supportive of the Victorian government … It’s a response to the fact that they have a significant Omicron wave,” he said. “The timing, as the Victorian chief health officer has indicated, is that they are likely to reach that peak, if they have not reached that peak already, in the very near future. And I think that is an important sign of hope. “But as we always planned, the surge capacity in the hospitals is there. The challenge now is workforce, and they are responding with workforce measures … I respect the call.”As a result of Victoria’s announcement on Tuesday, tens of thousands of private hospital staff and nurses will be made available to the public health network. “(The Private Hospitals Agreement) was established over the course of late March and early April in 2020. And it was designed for supporting state hospital systems at any time where they may have significant numbers,” Mr Hunt said on Tuesday. The agreement will mean up to 57,000 nurses and over 100,000 private hospital staff will be made available to Omicron affected areas around the country.

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