The Australasian College for Emergency Medicine (ACEM; the College) is calling for whole of healthcare system approaches to prepare for and manage greater numbers of COVID-19 cases across Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand.
The College notes that there has, rightly, been a significant focus on intensive care unit (ICU) capacity, staffing, and ventilator numbers, given the recent growth in COVID-19 cases, particularly in New South Wales, Victoria and Aotearoa New Zealand.
However, it is just as important to ensure entire healthcare systems, already under massive pressure, are properly supported and equipped to manage and treat a potential influx of COVID-19 positive patients. This is particularly important at the point people with COVID-19 first interact with the healthcare system, and first enter hospitals.
Whole of system planning, including support for primary, community, ambulance and emergency department care, is needed.
ACEM President Dr John Bonning said, “Widespread systemic issues still to be resolved across both countries, meant many hospital emergency departments were already struggling under immense demand pressure prior to the most recent COVID-19 outbreaks.”
“We are seeing a continuation of these worrying scenarios play out in relatively COVID-free jurisdictions, as well as significant pandemic-associated pressures, combined with ongoing systemic issues, in locations grappling with significant outbreaks.
“As vaccination rates increase and communities look to open up, it is crucial that all healthcare systems across our two countries are properly prepared for the likely increase in COVID-19 cases, while also supported to continue providing ‘business as usual’ care to acute patients, who we know will continue to need treatment in emergency departments.
“While much of the public discussion has focussed on ICU capacity, staffing and ventilators to treat critically ill COVID-19 patients, there is a need to make sure that the whole healthcare system is supported, to ensure patient care is not delayed, and that an already strained and stretched workforce is kept as safe as possible.
“ICU requirements are the tip of a very large iceberg in terms of the parts of our healthcare systems that will continue to feel the significant impacts of treating more COVID-19 positive patients, while also seeking to provide timely and appropriate care to all other patients.
“Alongside clear and solid PPE guidelines and workforce plans, support and contingencies, we need to see clear and consistent guidelines in relation to the quarantining of healthcare staff who may come into contact with COVID-19 patients.
“The College also emphasises the importance of all governments focussing on equity of vaccine access and uptake, particularly in areas and regions where vaccination rates may be lagging. This must include vulnerable community members and all Indigenous communities across both countries.
“The public should feel assured that their emergency department is there for them in an emergency, and people should continue to seek care if and when they need it. However, as we continue to progress through this pandemic, it is pressing on all governments to ensure the right support and systems are in place to ensure all patients receive the care they need, when and where they need it.”
ACEM is the peak body for emergency medicine in Australia and New Zealand, responsible for training emergency physicians and advancement of professional standards. www.acem.org.au
Melissa Howard [email protected] + 61 427 621 857