March 29 - April 4, 2020: Issue 444


Three COVID-19 patients in NBH as cases continue to rise exponentially

Mona Vale Hospital Beachside Rehabilitation Unit - image taken from the just opened Community Health Building in 2016. Photo by A J Guesdon 

March 28, 2020
By Miranda Korzy

Northern Beaches Hospital (NBH) is treating three patients with coronavirus, while calls continue for the NSW government to increase bed numbers in the Pittwater area to treat Covid-19 patients by reopening acute services at Mona Vale Hospital. 

The number of diagnosed coronavirus cases on Saturday rose to 3,635, with 486 new cases confirmed since 3pm on Friday and 14 deaths recorded nationwide. 

A spokeswoman for NBH told Pittwater Online News on Saturday that the hospital had treated six coronavirus patients since the outbreak began.

Three had been discharged and the rest remained in the hospital in a stable condition and were “doing alright”, the spokeswoman said.

For the Northern Beaches Council area, a NSW Health spokeswoman told Pittwater Online News that 85 cases had been recorded, however less than five of them had been locally acquired. The rest were traced to incoming travellers.

However, with rates of infection still rising exponentially, local residents are concerned that bed numbers will not meet the need in coming weeks. 

Save Mona Vale Hospital chairman Parry Thomas said he feared the NSW government would attempt to assign beds in the Mona Vale Hospital rehabilitation facility for COVID-19 patients, given that palliative care and aged care assessment wards were not yet open. 

Mr Thomas said that in the US and Italy, governments were setting up hospital tents and bringing a hospital ship into service, while in the UK, field hospitals were being set up, including transforming a 2 km-long exhibition centre in London with 4,000 beds. 

“Everywhere around the world they are struggling to keep up with this virus and if we can learn one thing from it, it is that we have to go early and go hard,” Mr Thomas told Pittwater Online News.

“We have got to try to keep ahead of that curve. 

“No-one is going to turn around and complain later if we end up with too many beds – but if they don’t have enough hospital capacity then it will be a national disaster.”

Mr Thomas said that the outbreak of Covid-19 confirmed the need for Mona Vale Hospital to re-open its Emergency Department as a Level 3 facility supported by an Intensive Care Unit and other acute care services, as recommended by the NSW Upper House Inquiry into Northern Beaches Hospital and its impact on local services last month.  

Australia’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly, a public health physician and epidemiologist at the Australian National University, yesterday sought to dispel fears that bed numbers would fail to meet demand during the pandemic.

Intensive care was only a small component of the needs of the current 3,400 coronavirus patients in Australia – with 30 in use in total, The Guardian newspaper reported him as saying.

“I can really assure people that the healthcare system in Australia is very adaptable,” Professor Kelly said. 

“And it is absolutely ready for this matter. 

“In terms of intensive care, we have doubled the capacity ... and there are beds available right now with the ventilators right now to deal with people if they require it.”

Researchers suggest the number of coronavirus cases will continue to grow exponentially - doubling about every three to six days – and are likely to peak in August, converging with the height of the influenza season.   

In recent days those rates have slowed. (For graphs showing rates of increase in NSW, Australia and internationally see: )

But doctors are still suggesting that coronavirus patients could overwhelm the country’s 2,200 ICU beds  

NSW Health is preparing for 20 per cent of the state’s population – 1.6 million people to become infected, with up to 80,000 people likely to require intensive care simultaneously, The Guardian reported earlier this month. 

Prof. Kelly’s remarks followed a speech by Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Friday in which he indicated the government was trying by today to finalise arrangements with private hospitals for treating coronavirus patients. 

“The private hospital system can play an important role in supporting the acute and intensive care needs of infected Australians together with other continuing urgent care needs,” Mr Morrison said at a media conference on Friday. 

“The capacity of the private system for non COVID cases and for overflow, particularly from ICU facilities, may be critical to Australia’s response.”

However, 600 nurses employed by Healthe Care - the third largest private hospital operator in the state, behind Ramsay Health Care and Healthscope – were laid off on Friday

NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association General Secretary Brett Holmes rebuked the federal government over its handling of the cancellation of non-urgent elective surgery - for failing to consider the dire workforce consequences. 

“With little time to negotiate logistics around the distribution of any resources to the public hospital sector, private hospital employers have taken the drastic step of laying off their 

highly skilled, lifesaving workforce in the middle of a global health crisis,” Mr Holmes said in a statement.

“It’s unspeakable.” 

In fact, The Guardian newspaper was today reporting fears that private hospitals would themselves close during the coming week unless governments helped replace the revenue lost when elective surgery was banned.  

Sadly, the latest death in NSW was a 91-year-old woman who passed away in hospital this morning. She had been a resident at the Dorothy Henderson Lodge - a nursing home at Macquarie Park in Sydney.

“NSW Health passes on our condolences to the family of this patient. Eight people have now died in NSW having tested positive to COVID-19,” the department said in a statement.

Currently there are 147 COVID-19 cases being treated in NSW, including 22 cases in the state’s ICUs and, of those, 11 require ventilators.

“What these figures reveal is that testing for COVID-19 is occurring at a significant rate across the state and we urge everyone to follow NSW Health advice about social distancing, personal hygiene and staying at home wherever possible,” the Health Department said in its statement 

Passengers from the Ruby Princess cruise ship make up 171 of the cases in NSW – along with more than 100 in other states. Passengers from the ship were allowed to disembark without any health checks. 

On Friday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the federal government’s latest measures to “slow the spread” of the coronavirus. 

“We are battling this thing on two fronts and they are both important,” Mr Morrison said. 

“We're battling this virus with all the measures that we're putting in place and we're battling the economic crisis that has been caused as a result of the coronavirus.

“Both will take lives. Both will take livelihoods.” 

Mr Morrison said the virus would remain in the community for at least six months, so social distancing measures needed to be sustainable for at least that long “to protect Australian lives, to help Australia to keep functioning and to keep Australians in jobs”. 

However, the Prime Minster said 85 per cent of cases in Australia had been contracted overseas or from an overseas contact. 

The National Cabinet had therefore agreed to further restrict movements of incoming international travellers by transporting them to and quarantining them in hotels for two weeks of mandatory self-isolation before they are able to return to their home, he said. 

National Cabinet will meet again today (Sunday) to consider issues including commercial and residential tenancies and “health supply arrangements”.

In NSW, Health Minister Brad Hazzard on Wednesday introduced a Public Health order to deal with the risks of COVID-19 that requires anyone diagnosed to be quarantined in a hospital, at home or other place determined as suitable until medically cleared.  

Penalties apply of up to $11,000 plus six months jail and $5,000 for every extra day the patient fails to comply. 

At Mona Vale Hospital: rear view of the purpose-built, $30 million Mona Vale Community Health Centre, opened in May 2016. Photo by A J Guesdon.