Queensland hospital staff say ‘fatigue is immense’ amid COVID-19 patient load, while late cancer diagnoses follow delayed procedures

Queensland hospitals are so overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients, burnt-out health workers are taking leave to cope with pandemic stress, while doctors are warning that ongoing elective surgery delays are starting to result in late cancer diagnoses.

Frontline medical staff are so concerned about the latest Omicron wave, some are calling for renewed widespread mask mandates — including at Brisbane’s Ekka — while there is also a push for masks to be handed out at high-risk locations, such as at train stations, to dampen transmission.

With the third Omicron wave still to peak, 1,034 patients were in Queensland hospitals with COVID-19 on Thursday – those numbers already exceeding the capacity of the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, the state’s largest health facility — with more cases expected in coming weeks.

Federal Health Department data released weekly shows about 8 per cent of Queensland hospital ward beds are being filled with COVID-19 patients.

Infectious diseases specialist Paul Griffin said the pandemic was taking such a toll on health workers, some were having to take time off to recover from the overwhelming fatigue.

Dr Griffin — an associate professor at the University of Queensland — has called for more education of the Queensland public about the impact of increasing COVID-19 hospital admissions and case numbers on the community.

“Deferring … elective surgery — I think a lot of people underestimate the significance of that and the fact that any procedure we defer has consequences,” he said.

For example, colonoscopies and endoscopies — procedures referred to medically as “scopes” — may be considered “non-urgent” but deferrals can result in cancers being picked up at a later stage.

“Every one of those that’s deferred has the potential to lead to consequences, in addition to the actual backlog of trying to catch up — [it] is going to be really hard,” Dr Griffin noted.

Dr Paul Griffin stands in an office foyer.
Dr Paul Griffin has called for more education of the Queensland public about the impact of increasing COVID-19 hospital admissions and case numbers on the community.(ABC News: Patrick Rocca)

Australian Medical Association (AMA) president Omar Khorshid said doctors were worried that the hospital system was unable to “deliver the best care that it can” amid the growing Omicron wave.

“More mistakes get made, people’s care is delayed, and we know there is a cost to that: a cost in lives, a cost in worse outcomes, which can mean a lifetime of disability as opposed to a cure,” Dr Khorshid said.

“We don’t know where we’re at in terms of this outbreak.

“If it peaks in the next week or so, then I think hospitals will be OK, but the concern is the extraordinary numbers will keep going up.

A man from mid-chest up wearing blue scrubs.
Dr Omar Khorshid says doctors are worried the hospital system is unable to “deliver the best care that it can” amid the growing Omicron wave.(ABC News: Keane Bourke)

Brisbane Ekka fears

Federal and state governments have failed to release modelling regarding the expected length of the latest COVID wave, as well as the likely peak in hospital admissions and deaths.

Modelling by Griffith University virologist Nigel McMillan suggests the State of Origin game on July 13 — attended by more than 52,000 people at Lang Park in Brisbane — may have contributed to the spread of Omicron through the community.

He said Queensland case numbers had increased from 6,768 on July 12, the day before the Origin match, to 11,687 yesterday, a 72 per cent jump in nine days.

“I believe there are around 1,600 extra cases we wouldn’t have expected from last week based on [those] numbers,” Professor McMillan said.

“The lesson is all these events should be masked to avoid this sort of rise.

“Ekka visitors spend a much longer time [there] than [at] … a league game.”

Large crowds attend the Royal Queensland Show in 2016.
Experts are calling for renewed widespread mask mandates, including at Brisbane’s Ekka.(AAP Image: Dan Peled)

Dr Griffin called on authorities to start supplying masks at high-risk locations, to mitigate the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

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