Routine surgery is to be cancelled in Wales as the NHS gears up to tackle the coronavirus outbreak.
Cutting back on so-called “elective” operations – those waiting for non-urgent treatment – had been put forward as one of the likely options as the pandemic escalates and more patients with the virus need treating.
Routine outpatient appointments will also be put on hold.
Waiting time targets and monitoring are also being relaxed.
Health Minister Vaughan Gething said: “I am choosing to act now before we see a significant surge in demand so that our services can be ready to act. A larger number of people requiring high levels of care is highly likely over the coming weeks.”
Mr Gething stressed that access to cancer and other essential treatments such as kidney dialysis would continue.
He outlined a series of actions:
- Suspending non-urgent outpatient appointments to ensure urgent appointments were prioritised
- Suspending non-urgent surgical admissions and procedures – but ensuring access for emergency and urgent surgery
- Prioritising the use of non-emergency patient transport to focus on hospital discharges and ambulance emergency response
- Expediting discharge of vulnerable patients from acute and community hospitals
- Relaxing targets and monitoring arrangements across the health and care system
- Minimising regulation requirements for health and care settings
- Fast-tracking placements to care homes by suspending the current protocol which gives to right to a choice of home
- Giving permission to cancel internal and professional events, including study leave, to free up staff for preparations
- Relaxing contract and monitoring arrangements for GPs and primary care practitioners
- Suspending NHS emergency service and health volunteer support to mass gatherings and events
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First Minister Mark Drakeford said it was about making the “right decisions at the right time”.
Earlier on Friday, the Welsh Government hinted at the move, saying it would need to consider reducing planned activity.
On Wednesday, a senior intensive care consultant warned about the supply of beds and staffing, because critical care units normally work at more than 90% capacity.
Dr Jack Parry-Jones, Welsh board member for the Faculty of Intensive Care Medicine, said Wales was “uniquely at risk” if there was a surge of very sick people.
He said options included cutting back on routine surgery and turning operating theatres into extra intensive care facilities.