All non-urgent surgeries will soon have to be postponed as Mater Dei Hospital starts descaling normal operations to focus on the coronavirus outbreak, CEO Celia Falzon has confirmed. 

“Our elective [non-urgent] operations will have to slow down significantly and will eventually halt completely. This will happen in the coming days,” Falzon said in an interview with Times of Malta as drastic measures are taken to contain the virus. 

The measure will not impact emergency surgeries, which will continue to be carried out, even if the number of COVID-19 cases increases dramatically, Falzon said. 

Health Minister Chris Fearne confirmed on Sunday all non-urgent procedures would be postponed as from Tuesday. 

Until Saturday night, there were 18 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Malta, with new cases having been registered daily for the past week. All the patients that have tested positive for coronavirus contracted the virus while abroad.

Two patients have already recovered and are to be discharged from hospital.  

Postponing non-urgent procedures was crucial as teams of medical staff would be freed up and provided with coronavirus training. At the same time, patients who are not operated upon are also protected from the virus, the CEO said.

At this point in time, something that can wait had better wait.

“We will not cancel emergency surgery but, at this point in time, something that can wait had better wait. 

“Although it’s unfortunate and it’s really something that pains me to have to stop elective surgery, at this point in time, it’s unfortunately necessary,” Falzon said. 

On the long-term impact such a move would have on the hospital, Falzon acknowledged waiting lists for surgeries will be “massive” and something the hospital had not been prepared to handle. “But that is a consequence we cannot avoid,” the CEO said. 

Is the hospital prepared for a dramatic outbreak? 

No hospital is prepared for such a virus outbreak, Falzon said matter-of-factly. 

Despite this, the CEO said all the measures being implemented were being executed according to the hospital’s plans, which had been in place before the first case was confirmed. 

There had not yet been any issues that the hospital did not expect or plan for, she said. 

“We were expecting it and we knew that once we report our first case, we would have others to follow. So, so far, what we expected is materialising,” she said. 

The change in government measures, however, meant the hospital’s plans were constantly being updated. 

Falzon and her team meet up first thing in the morning, taking both immediate decisions as well as making more longterm plans.

Escalation plan already in place

While hoping the outbreak is stretched over a number of months – as opposed to hitting in a short span of time – the hospital authorities have also started implementing a so-called escalation plan. 

This would come into force if the number of coronavirus cases increases drastically over a short period of time. 

A seven-bed intensive treatment unit has been set up in case the condition of certain COVID-19 patients starts deteriorating. The number of beds is also being increased significantly while the hospital is also ensuring that enough medical equipment is available to the staff treating patients with the virus. 

Fewer people turning up at hospital

As the health authorities continued to encourage people to avoid crowded places, the number of those visiting clinics seemed to dwindle, with reports of empty doctors’ offices making the rounds on social media. 

This led to people questioning whether some had been going to clinics when they did not really need to. Falzon confirmed this had also been the case at the emergency room, where there was a reduction of 60 to 80 patients being treated daily. 

This, she said, confirmed the health authorities’ fear that some tended to rush to the emergency department even when they could have been treated by their personal doctor. 

And amid the coronavirus preparations, the dwindling numbers were a relief to the hospital CEO. 

While insisting that the situation at the hospital is under control, Falzon said it is now more crucial than ever to avoid visiting Mater Dei unnecessarily. 

“Do not come to the hospital and unless you absolutely have to. If you have outpatients’ appointments that are simply follow-ups and simple appointments, either cancel them yourself, or do not be surprised if we contact you to cancel them. 

“And if you feel you need to come here urgently, try to speak to your physician first, even over the phone,” she said. The less the footfall at the hospital, Falzon said, the more space the staff has to “organise, prepare and treat patients who really need treatment”.

Dermatology outpatients out of Boffa Hospital

The health authorities also announced on Sunday that the dermatology outpatients unit situated at the Sir Paul Boffa Hospital in Floriana will, from Monday, move to the old Gzira Civic Centre at Triq San Albertu.

Extra beds have been set up at the Floriana hospital in case the number of coronavirus patients increases drastically in the coming days and weeks. 

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