THE number of people turning up to Bendigo Health for outpatient services has dropped to a third of the usual weekly attendances, as part of a concerted effort to reduce activity at the hospital.
The hospital sees about 1800 people per week in outpatient clinics, Bendigo Health chief executive Peter Faulkner said.
"We have, over the last few weeks, reduced that to 600 people per week who are visiting our services for outpatient appointments," he said.
"Only those who need to be seen face-to-face are in fact coming to the hospital."
Two-thirds of the usual services are being provided through telehealth and telephone, which Mr Faulkner said had been a "remarkable success".
"This is a really important initiative to keep not only our staff, our patients and our community safe, but also to keep those outpatients that would otherwise be coming safe," he said.
Bendigo Health was also conducting an "enormous number" of meetings via telehealth, to enable clinical staff to adhere to social distancing.
The measures were in addition to restrictions on members of the public visiting patients, and ceasing deliveries of flowers and gifts from external providers.
Mr Faulkner said efforts to reduce activity at the hospital were not only about keeping people safe - they also provided the health care group with the opportunity to upskill and train staff in managing coronavirus-type presentations.
Appropriate and safe use of personal protective equipment, or PPE, had been an important part of the training.
Mr Faulkner said Bendigo Health was also upskilling staff that generally didn't deal with infectious disease-type patients and very ill patients.
"There have been many, many changes in the way our staff work," he said.
Some of the changes were to the way they performed their roles. Mr Faulkner said some staff, had been redeployed, as the health care group had "turned down certain activities".
"The staff from our dental service have been redeployed to other areas of our service to help and support the initiatives we have been putting in place," Mr Faulkner said, by way of an example.
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Bendigo Health was as well positioned as it possibly could be for the season ahead, as part of what Mr Faulkner said was a "pretty well prepared" state system.
He did not expect to have to ramp up limitations on activity at the hospital unless the health care group was faced with the "significant surge" in coronavirus presentations seen in other countries.
"I would encourage everybody to try and get their flu vaccinations as early as possible," Mr Faulkner said.
He said the combined pressures of both influenza and COVID-19 were a "worst case scenario" for the health system.
"I don't know that there's enough available to vaccinate everybody at the moment, but over the next couple of weeks there's no doubt that supply will continue to flow," Mr Faulkner said.
He said he was in awe of the way Bendigo Health staff had responded to the challenges they had been presented with and urged the broader community to keep practising staying at home, social distancing, and being extra vigilant about hygiene.
"I'm sure we'll all get a bit of cabin fever but staying at home is the way to break the chain," Mr Faulkner said.
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