The Victorian shadow minister for health George Crozier has spoken out about the state governments code brown emergency alert for Victorian hospitals on Tuesday.
Mr Crozier said the emergency declaration indicates a failing state health system.
"Having had two years to prepare regional health services, the Andrews Labor Government has failed Victorians - leaving many at risk," he said.
"It is important that our health services are adequately staffed and resourced to deal with the omicron surge.
Following staff shortages amid soaring COVID case numbers, Bendigo Health has been on 'Code Brown'-standby since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Bendigo Health chief executive Peter Faulkner said the hospital was prepared to deal with the incoming Omicron peak.
"Like other health services across the state", he said, "we are experiencing increasing COVID-19 presentations and staff shortages due to COVID-related furlough requirements.
"We have recruited significant numbers of new staff, have extensive training programs in place to upskill staff and are redeploying staff to areas of highest clinical need."
The chief executive said the hospital would be redeploying staff across sectors where necessary.
"Where required we are using alternate clinical resources such as allied health," Mr Faulkner said.
While the hospital has been prepared for 'Code Brown' for some time, they said they welcomed the opportunity for further collaboration between regional and metropolitan health services to respond to peak demand.
The emergency 'Code Brown' alert for all Victorian metropolitan hospitals and six regional hospitals could mean postponements of essential health services and the deferral of annual leave for healthcare staff.
The affected regional hospitals include Barwon Health, Grampians Health, Bendigo Health, Goulburn Valley Health, Albury Wodonga Health and La Trobe Regional Hospital.
Victorian deputy state controller Adam Horsburgh said this was the first time the state had called a system wide pandemic 'Code Brown' alert.
"We think this situation is not metro-specific," he said. "There are regional areas which are under pressure.
"That's why its important that we're including the regional areas as well."
Mr Horsbugh said the statewide 'Code Brown' system would act as a framework for hospitals that required extra help, as well as a formalisation of emergency processes already in place in hospitals across the state.
The state controller said in some situations, staff may be asked to defer their annual leave to support the stretched healthcare systems.
"It's important to emphasise this would only be undertaken if absolutely necessary, and only with consultation with the relevant staff," he said.
"We're very conscious our healthcare staff are tired and fatigued."
"A lot of our focus is on supporting staff wellbeing."
Mr Horsburgh said they're estimating the statewide 'Code Brown' would last for a number of weeks, however the peak is predicted to be on its way.
"We're very keen to ensure our staff and the system can get through that period of time and beyond," he said.
"We expect that case numbers and hospital admissions will continue to rise over the coming weeks and peak at some point, though I can't predict when that'll happen".
At this stage, the 'Code Brown' system will not mean staff will be moving across the state to fill gaps in 'Code Brown' hospitals.
"We did put in place a system last year whereby we could put redeploy specialist-skilled staff back to regional areas if that was required in order to ensure continuity of services," Mr Horsburgh said.
"But the code-brown itself does not automatically trigger a movement of staff across different hospitals.
"What's more likely is that staff within a given health service may be asked to work in a different part of the hospital or perform different tasks."
Elective surgeries have been paused in Victoria since January 6, other non-essential health services will also be put on hold as part of the 'Code Brown' alert.
"We may need to suspend some non-urgent services, including some outpatient services which may not take place as they would normally in the coming weeks in order to free up staff for the COVID wards or emergency departments," Mr Horsburgh said.
Bendigo Health is yet to confirm what the emergency alert will look like for the local hospital.
Bendigo Healh is one of the six regional hospitals included in the state-wide 'Code Brown' announced by the Victorian government earlier Tuesday morning.
Greater Bendigo recorded a further 95 coronavirus cases on Monday, leaving the region's active cases at 1151.
Mount Alexander (7), Campaspe (35), Macedon Ranges (94), Central Goldfields (6), Loddon (2), Buloke (7) and Gannawarra (9) shires also recorded new cases.
The Australian Nursing and Midwifery federation said the move from the state government was necessary as Victorian hospitals continue to buckle under the pressure of the Omicron wave.
"The dire situation has been caused by the simultaneous increase in COVID positive admissions and the thousands of nurses and midwives required to furlough each day," said the ANMF.
Victoria has declared a 'Code Brown' emergency for all Melbourne hospitals and six regional hospitals as the system buckles under COVID-19 admissions and staff shortages.
A 'Code Brown' is declared when additional capability and capacity needs to be mobilised to receive an influx of patients due to an external emergency.
The new infections confirmed by the health department on Tuesday include 11,747 from rapid antigen tests and 8433 from PCR tests.
It is the second consecutive day case numbers have declined in the state.
It brings the total number of active cases in the state to 235,035 - a fall of about 10,000 cases since Monday.
Tuesday's patient numbers are a decrease of 77 on the previous day.
The number of people in ICU has decreased by two to 127, though 43 people are now on ventilation, an increase of five.
Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton on Monday said hospitalisation numbers were yet to peak, as he predicted that may not be reached for a month.
He said there was a lag of about two weeks between case numbers and hospital admissions, and three weeks for that to translate to ICU figures.
With Australian Associated Press
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