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Hospitals channelling all their resources to combat the Covid-19 pandemic has come at the expense of other patients suffering from different illnesses.
Under the circumstances, Health Ministry director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said it was difficult to conduct surgeries for non-Covid-19 patients.
"Suspension of elective surgeries and reduction in emergency surgeries have resulted in collateral damage in health and well-being of non-Covid-19 patients - even for urgent and time-critical surgery like cancer operations," he said in a virtual speech delivered at the Malaysian Society of Anaesthesiologists and College of Anaesthesiologists Annual Scientific Congress 2021.
Noor Hisham added that this was particularly true for hybrid hospitals dealing with general patients and also Covid-19 cases.
"It has been impossible to perform elective surgery since December 2020 hence the waiting list for elective and semi-elective surgeries is at an all-time high.
"There is an urgency for us to strategise a return to elective surgery to deal with the backlog and to give solutions for patients waiting for non-elective surgeries," he said.
The country, Noor Hisham said, had spent the last 10 months continuously trying to repurpose wards and operation theatres as well as build temporary field intensive care units to cope with the surge in Covid-19 patients.
However, a key hurdle is having people to man those facilities.
"The pandemic has exposed the manpower shortage and the need to train, retrain and invest in building a larger anaesthesia workforce.
"Infrastructure and facilities are important but without doctors and staff to fill them, we will not be able to utilise these resources.
"The lesson learnt is that very importantly we need general anesthesiologists, medical officers and critical care nurses - the shortage of which has limited the expansion plans of intensive care beds during the surge," he added.Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah
Noor Hisham pointed out that the pandemic is unlikely to be resolved in the next six months.
As such, he said critical care capacity must be boosted to not only cope with Covid-19 cases but also cater for non-Covid-19 patients.
"In the situation where the pandemic is unlikely to be overcome in the next six months and a surge is expected to be frequent, recurrent and unpredictable due to the more virulent variants, we need to increase critical care capacity across the country to a level where the surge will have little impact on non-Covid-19 business-as-usual activities.
"We shouldn't use pre-pandemic baseline capacity to absorb or use the maximum expanded repurposed capacity to manage the increased workload associated with the surge in Covid-19 cases," he added.
The Health DG stressed that there is a need to develop plans for Covid-19 positive and Covid-19 negative critical care beds.