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Hospital COVID capacity under review

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Australia’s hospitals will come under scrutiny at a meeting of national cabinet today, amid concern the health system will struggle to cope with rising COVID-19 cases.

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Health Department boss Brendan Murphy has asked intensive care experts from around Australia to provide advice about the pressures higher caseloads could present.

That will be examined by Prime Minister Scott Morrison along with his state and territory counterparts at Friday’s national cabinet meeting.

Australian Medical Association president Omar Khorshid said emergency departments were full and elective surgery waiting times too long before the pandemic.

“While national cabinet is considering the cost of expanding intensive care capacity for an expected COVID surge, a funding top-up alone won’t cut it,” he said.

“The Commonwealth will need to address the longer-term public hospital funding crisis.”

There are 184 coronavirus patients in intensive care nationally, with 160 in NSW, where there was another 1288 new cases on Thursday.

Khorshid urged Australia to prepare the health system based on the ability of hospitals to cope with more coronavirus cases before opening up.

National cabinet will also consider if healthcare workers who were close contacts should still be sidelined when high vaccination coverage is achieved.

Morrison has indicated vaccinated staff may not have to be furloughed in the future, while Khorshid believes the practice is unsustainable.

Labor’s health spokesman Mark Butler said national cabinet needed to urgently lock in a plan to bolster hospitals.

“NSW hospitals are at breaking point with much worse yet to come but Scott Morrison still has no plan to guarantee our hospitals stay strong and stay safe,” he said.

A reopening agreement between the federal government and the states to gradually ease restrictions once 70 and 80 per cent of over-16s are vaccinated continues to fracture.

Wrangling over when borders in WA and Queensland will open to states with the virus continues, but the issue is not addressed in Doherty Institute modelling behind the national plan.

-AAP

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