Hunter New England Local Health District COVID-19 plans for Manning Base Hospital

Are MidCoast hospitals ready for COVID patients?

"We are going to see wards with lots of COVID patients in the future. That's for sure."

Dr Paul Craven, medical controller, Hunter New England Local Health District (HNELHD) COVID-19 Response, says the health district is ready for the expected rise of COVID cases when NSW re-opens.

Dr Craven said HNELHD has a pandemic plan for every facility in the health district that has been 600 days in the planning thus far.

"Not a day has gone by without plans being made," Dr Craven said.

"We look at the whole of the Hunter New England. Any plan that we've made for Newcastle, for example, we've made for every other location at the same time."

Manning Base Hospital is one of four major hospitals in HNELHD for COVID-19 purposes, the others being Tamworth - the major regional hospital, Maitland and Armidale. with John Hunter Hospital in Newcastle being the primary hospital.

While Manning Base has ICU rooms with a ventilator for each bed, Dr Craven says if patients were sick enough to require ventilation, they would probably be transferred to John Hunter Hospital.

"It's not because Manning can't do it, it's just that the patients who require ventilation for COVID have to be 'proned' so they're lying on their front. And trying to move those patients takes an incredible number of staff. The reality is it would be better to try to centralise the ones that require ventilation and at the moment the only ventilated patients are in John Hunter," Dr Craven said.

"The idea would be if we got a sick person into the Manning would really be to move them to a larger hospital where we're more used to proning them at that stage."

Dr Craven said that doesn't mean patients would not be using the ICU at Manning Base.

Manning Base has identified an area to 'flex' into and increase the number of beds, should more beds for COVID patients be needed.

And if things become dire and a large outbreak occurs in the area, plans are to close down elective surgery, which frees up a ward and staff for the use use of COVID patients.

"When you stop doing elective surgery you free up lots of beds and lots of staff, and those staff become the care staff of patients with COVID.

The challenge, Dr Craven says, is finding more staff to care for patients.

Because in all honesty, we don't magic up health staff overnight just because we've got an outbreak.

Dr Paul Craven

"Because in all honesty, we don't magic up health staff overnight just because we've got an outbreak," he said.

Those patients that are COVID positive but not sick enough to need hospital care will either be cared for at home, or if they can't isolate from their families or housemates at home, in a hotel.

In those cases they will be cared for by the Hospital at Home system, whereby they are provided with thermometers and saturation oximeters to measure fever, pulse rate and oxygen levels. They are contacted on a daily basis by health professionals to make sure they are stable in their own home.

Nearly 200 patients are currently in HNELHD's Hospital at Home system.

In Emergency Departments staff move people presenting with COVID into single rooms. In this situation staff wear full PPE, are vaccinated, and are fit-tested for N95 masks).

However, Dr Craven pleads with everyone in the HNELHD to stay away from Emergency Departments unless it is a medical emergency.

"If people think they are a little unwell and they might have COVID, please don't come to the hospital straight away. Go and get a test, stay away, only come to hospital if you need hospital care.

"COVID is one of those things that can mask everything. You can have a bit of gastro, you can have a bit of a runny nose, there could be aches and pains. So when we see you we don't always know you've got COVID. But when you're there, you're exposing other people.

"If you don't NEED hospital care, don't come to Emergency, please! Do a telehealth consult with a GP, get a COVID test at that stage, try to work out what's wrong.

"Don't go out, get swabbed, and get vaccinated. It's a pretty simple message at the end of the day."