Queensland may delay some elective surgeries amid Covid staffing crisis

Some elective surgeries may be suspended again in Queensland as the state government pleads with residents to get booster jabs amid a third Covid wave.

Nearly 700 public and private hospital patients have the virus and 7.6% of Queensland Health workers are off on some form of sick leave.

“I have over 2,000 staff that are furloughed just because of Covid,” the health minister, Yvette D’Ath, said on Thursday.

Some hospitals are likely to suspend lower-category elective surgeries depending on where staffing pressures are affecting the most.

“There’s no decision to have any statewide suspension. We’re allowing the local hospitals to manage that based on their own demands and pressures,” D’Ath said.

With the current virus wave yet to hit its peak, the situation is likely to get worse before it gets better.

“The modelling says that we should expect that it will get worse leading up to the end of the month,” D’Ath said.

Her comments came as the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (Atagi) expanded the criteria for who can get a second Covid-19 booster shot.

From 11 July, people over 50 will be recommended to receive a fourth vaccine dose, or second booster shot. Those between 30 and 49 will be able to have a fourth dose if they choose to do so.

But there are concerns about vaccine levels for Queenslanders who are already eligible.

Fewer than half of those who fit the existing criteria have come forward for their fourth vaccine dose, or second booster.

“The latest data shows that if you are over 65 and you have not received your fourth booster, you are four more times likely to get the new [Omicron] variants,” D’Ath said.

Just 63% of eligible people have had their third booster, while more than 94% of the eligible population have had at least one vaccination.

“There’s no reason why our third dose and our fourth dose should not be at those same levels,” D’Ath said.

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Expanding eligibility for a second booster to include healthcare workers should also be considered, the Australian Medical Association said.

“We’re … asking for Atagi to consider healthcare workers. They are at the frontline,” the AMA Queensland president, Maria Boulton, told ABC radio on Thursday.

“We need to keep those healthcare workers at work. We need to protect them with everything we have.”

The state recorded just under 6,000 new Covid-19 cases on Thursday and 17 more deaths. There are more than 39,800 active cases.

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