A Newcastle orthopaedic surgeon has criticised colleagues planning to perform non-urgent elective surgery this weekend in private hospitals.
Dr David Nicholson criticised surgeons "scrounging a few measly bucks before it all shuts down" at the expense of valuable hospital resources.
"How can you expect the average punter to comprehend what's going on when these guys are doing that?" he said. "We can do better by the community."
The federal government announced on Wednesday that it was banning non-urgent surgery in the face of a looming surge in COVID-19 cases. But the government subsequently gave private hospitals until midnight on April 1 to continue non-urgent operations.
Dr Nicholson, who works in the private and public systems, said his company had agreed to "belatedly" stop operating on Friday night but other hospitals had "jam-packed" their theatres over the coming days.
He said nurses and doctors were concerned about running out of masks and beds, though he said Hunter New England Health's planning had been "pretty good".
"Speaking to colleagues in Spain and Italy and the US ... they are saying, 'You have no idea what's coming.'
"The opinion of the vast majority of doctors is, 'Let's prepare for the worst, and, if it doesn't happen, well, how good's that.' To be honest, doctors are petrified."
Asked on Friday to comment, the Australian Medical Association did not address specifically the issue of non-urgent operations continuing until Wednesday but reiterated its position that "we need to be looking at distribution of personal protective equipment".
Australian Society of Anaesthetists president Suzi Nou has said the "only way Australian hospitals can effectively prepare for an influx of patients is if we have the time to devote resources to this preparation".
Dr Nicholson said he had "basically" ended elective surgery two weeks ago to stop patients moving around the community before and after operations and to preserve personal protective equipment (PPE) for "when the onslaught arrives".
"I don't think the public understands the implications of them having elective surgery," he said.
"They're having completely elective surgery which can wait. It should not be happening.
"It's not just the operations. It uses up protective equipment, but, if someone has a knee operation today, they've then got to have post-op appointments, they've got to go to physio appointments.
"They're then moving about the community with their carers or family. It's putting a significant number of people at risk who shouldn't be.
"Elective orthopaedic surgery is almost the most elective surgery you can have, other than cosmetic surgery."
Dr Nicholson said he had approached the Department of Health to find out why the government had changed its mind about an immediate ban on non-urgent operations.
"Certainly the scientific or medical evidence didn't change. If anything, the numbers are continuing to go up."
A "huge" number of operations would be completed in Australia before the deadline.
The Newcastle Herald approached the Australian Private Hospitals Association but had not received a response by deadline.
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