The HUNTER's health services have joined forces to prepare for the fight against coronavirus as cases continue to rise exponentially in the region.
Dr Paul Craven, the medical controller for Hunter New England's response to COVID-19, said the region's health services were as ready as they could be without knowing how the next days, weeks, and months ahead would play out. But they had strategies in place for staffing, for beds, and equipment.
"We are possibly going to be busier than we can ever imagine, and we will have to think outside our normal environments," Dr Craven said. "I'm not going to say we are ready - because we don't know what we are facing.
"I'm going to say that in the past 62 days, we have not stopped trying to ensure that our staff are going to be kept safe, that our staff are trained in what they are going to have to provide for the patients coming through, and that we have the right equipment in the hospitals too."
Dr Craven said they had been working closely with the local Primary Health Network and the region's private hospitals to prepare for a united response to the pandemic as cases continued to climb.
"We can see things are approaching at the moment, and this is about being sensible and all coming together and agreeing on how we should best approach this," Dr Craven said.
"We have to work together. If we get a large number of patients that need care at the one time, we can't work separately - we have got to come together to put a patient in the most appropriate facility for the right care at the right time. And time is relatively short."
It was all hands on deck.
They had been in discussions with Newcastle and New England universities to recruit student doctors and nurses to help in varying capacities in the hospitals and behind the scenes.
Staff who had been working in other areas were getting refresher courses to get ready to return to an intensive care environment.
And the Primary Health Network was "working very hard" to keep people out of hospital.
"I can't stress how important that is. We want well people to remain out of the hospital. We want to leave our hospitals there for sick people who require acute care," Dr Craven said.
Hunter hospitals postponed all non-urgent elective surgeries earlier this week.
"We understand everybody needs their operation, and we are planning it so we maintain our waitlist and you keep your place in that waitlist," he said.
"But at the moment, we don't want the hospital full of patients who may be vulnerable when we are seeing patients with COVID-19.
"We also want to make sure our staff are really trained to address it.
"We want to make sure everyone is trained in how they might manage specific situations where very sick people might need to be intubated, or have an airway put down, for example.
"They need to know how we do that really safely, in a controlled fashion, if someone is very sick with COVID-19.
"We don't want to put our staff at risk, we don't want to put our patients at risk, and we don't want to be full before this gets going - because we can see it is going to come.
"If we are 100 per cent occupied when we get a lot of patients... We need some capacity right at the start. That is why we are postponing non-urgent elective surgeries."
While there were world-wide supply issues with personal protective equipment (PPE) such as face masks Hunter health staff were being encouraged to use them more conservatively and only when necessary, as per guidelines.
"COVID-19 is real. It is serious. If we can prevent it, we are really going to help a lot of people. We are going to save lives," Dr Craven said.
He urged people to self-isolate, and heed the public health advice and directions.
"If you are unwell, please stay indoors. Please do not go out. And please pay attention to the messages provided by health professionals and public health physicians, because that will keep us all safe."
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