An expert surgical advisory group has been established to guide the safe and gradual re-commencement of elective surgery in South Australia and provide specialist advice on surgery during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The group is led by Professor Chris Baggoley, the Chief Medical Officer to the Australian Government, who led Australia’s response to the 2014 Ebola Outbreak. The group will provide guidance and leadership to the medical specialist community and to the broader health community on the safe reintroduction of elective surgery.

With optimal patient care as the focus, the public and private sectors will recommence urgent elective surgery and procedures in accord with a new Direction issued under the Major Emergency declaration.

Minister for Health and Wellbeing, Stephen Wade, said the expert advisory group’s membership was diverse, with public and private sector surgeons, anaesthetists, theatre nurses, proceduralists as well as senior management across metropolitan and rural hospitals.

“The state’s most senior surgical clinicians will oversee the gradual reintroduction of elective surgery over the next two weeks based on the availability of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), clinicians and surgical pharmaceuticals,” Minister Wade said.

“Our priority in gradually increasing elective surgeries will always be on patient, clinician and community safety.”

The state’s preparedness for the return of elective surgery has been bolstered by the arrival of millions of items of PPE in the past month, the engagement of local company Detmold to produce face masks, and a low number of new COVID-19 positive cases.“The state government is keen to maintain broader non-COVID health services wherever it is safe to do so , hence we will be gradually increasing essential surgery by up to 25 per cent,” Minister Wade said.

“Health providers will be required to focus on essential surgeries facing the most urgent need as determined by senior clinicians and based on facilities available, which we know varies hospital to hospital.

“There will be a small number of procedures allowed to start with and overdue paediatric and rural cases prioritised will be prioritised. Progress will be reviewed nationally in mid-May.

“While other restrictions will be with us for a long time, the reintroduction of elective surgery from this week is an encouraging early sign," Minister Wade said.

“Our hospitals and theatres have strict infection control measures in place and people should feel safe going to hospital.”

The Vice Chairman of the State Committee of the Royal College of Surgeons, Dr Phil Worley, was instrumental in forming the network and provides expert advice from a clinical perspective in both public and private health.”

“We are pleased to be in a position to increase essential elective surgery in South Australia because of improved access to personal protective equipment and the low number of cases in the state,” Dr Worley said.

“Our main focus is to keep the community at the forefront of our specialist advice to the public and private sector, which means balancing our supply of PPE and workforce required to carry out necessary procedures.

“It is a real achievement for South Australian private and public clinicians to come together throughout these two weeks to work through this gradual increase, which we know will be paramount for so many in our community.”