SA Health cancels elective surgeries in Covid wave

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A state’s public hospital system has declared a “Code Yellow” emergency as a new wave of Covid and flu drastically reduces healthcare workforce and leads to a skyrocketing number of new patient presentations.

Robyn Lawrence, chief executive of South Australia’s Department of Health, declared the state of emergency on Thursday and confirmed at a press conference on Friday morning that at least nine planned surgeries would be postponed and some patients would be transferred from the Adelaide metropolitan area’s overstretched hospitals to regional centres.

“I’ve seen this growing number of Covid cases in particular, but I’m also seeing an increase in pneumonia and heart failure and other conditions that can be triggered by different types of viral diseases in older Australians,” she said.

“That’s not unusual in the winter, but what we’re experiencing right now is that we currently have 200 more patients in our hospital than we did at the same time last year, and that’s a significant improvement for our system.”

Respiratory diseases are the main reason for the increase in the number of cases, she said. Around 270 hospital staff are currently on sick leave due to Covid or flu and around 140 patients are in hospital with Covid or flu.

Chief Health Officer Professor Nicola Spurrier warned that flu posed serious health risks to children and older Australians and urged parents to get their children and older Australians vaccinated.

“The flu hits these groups particularly hard and these are the groups that come to our hospitals,” she said Friday morning alongside Ms Lawrence.

Ms Lawrence said there were not enough beds for the patients.

“Every day we have 100 patients waiting for a bed,” she said.

“We will use any room that is deemed safe as a place to sleep.”

The declaration triggers an emergency response that results in a reallocation of resources and an adjustment of patient care.

While the hospital system works to get the surge under control, priority two and three surgeries are being postponed, she said.

Telemedicine is also used when necessary to accommodate patients at home or in care facilities.

Simone King, 47, has been scheduled to have her gallbladder removed at the Royal Adelaide Hospital.

“I have been waiting a really long time for this operation and if I don’t have it done I will be in a lot of pain,” she told the Adelaide Advertiser.

“I’m afraid I’ll get another gallstone.”

Respiratory diseases are also becoming more common in other states.

A “triple threat” of flu, Covid and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) detections across NSW has prompted health authorities to call on people over 65 to get free flu vaccinations.

The NSW Health Respiratory Surveillance Report released on Thursday showed a 27 percent increase in flu reports and a 23 percent increase in Covid-19 reports compared to the previous week.

And New South Wales Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant said vaccination rates were not yet where they needed to be, despite rapidly rising flu transmissions and an expected “rapid increase” in cases over the next few weeks.

“In NSW, less than half of people over 65 have received their flu vaccination this year and we absolutely need to increase that number, especially as people in this age group are most at risk of severe illness,” Dr Chant said.

“We expect the number of flu cases to increase rapidly in the coming weeks, so now is the time to get vaccinated if you haven’t already.”

The report also found that the number of Covid-19 reports is “increasing across all age groups and in most local health districts (LHDs).”

“In the last week, there continued to be high numbers of COVID-19 reports among those over 90 years of age,” it said.

“LHDs with smaller populations, such as Far West LHD, have greater variability in reporting rates.”

RSV infections were also common in children between two and four years of age, but the number of reports of positive cases in children under two years of age stabilized.

The reporting rate increased by 4 percent week-on-week.

Special emphasis was also placed on whooping cough and pneumonia.

The highest rate of whooping cough was found in children between the ages of five and 14, although the number of cases appears to be increasing.

Reporting rates rose rapidly between 2022 and 2024. In 2022, the virus was detected in one in 100,000 people, and in the period from 2023 to 2025, the figure was already 10.8 cases per 100,000 people.

In the current year 2024, this number has already risen to 85.4 reports per 100,000 people.

Pneumonia, a potentially fatal infection of the lungs, is also a concern for health authorities, as it is leading to an unusually high number of emergency room visits for children and young adults, particularly those between the ages of five and 16.

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