Bookings team powers through COVID-19 surgery backlog

Westmead Hospital books and admissions team members Sarita Devi, Sashi Kumar and Evelyn Gendive.

Whether you need a cancer removed, a joint replaced or a new organ, every elective surgery patient deals with one team: bookings and admissions.

The 14-strong team at Westmead Hospital has laboured tirelessly behind the scenes throughout the pandemic, ensuring hundreds of surgeries are booked on time every week to keep people healthy.

They are the facilitators, booking every preadmission appointment and surgery with the surgeons and patients, and rearranging when elective surgeries need to be postponed due to a higher priority.

WSLHD elective waitlist manager Ujala Tahir.

About 60 per cent of surgeries that take place at Westmead Hospital are emergencies – people rushed in from car crashes, workplace incidents and the like for immediate life- and limb-saving procedures.

The remainder are elective surgeries, also known as planned surgeries, which fall under three categories:

  • Urgent: to be performed within 30 days, such as cancer removal and heart valve replacements
  • Semi-urgent: to be performed within 90 days, such as biopsies and digit amputations
  • Non-urgent: to be performed within 365 days, such as knee replacements and cataract extractions

On March 26 the Australian Government suspended all non-urgent and some semi-urgent surgery in order to prepare hospitals for a surge of COVID-19 patients.

The latest Bureau of Health Information report released today shows the necessary decision saw the NSW elective surgery waitlist blow out to more than 100,000 patients.

Western Sydney Local Health District (WSLHD) elective waitlist manager Ujala Tahir said her team has worked tirelessly over the past few months to increase surgical capacity and play our district’s part in working through the backlog created by the temporary suspension.

“In May we had 923 patients who were overdue for surgery. We’ve since brought that down to 572, and not one urgent surgery has been overdue,” Ujala explained.

“Right now we are one of the best-performing local health districts in NSW with respect to reduction in overdue surgeries, and a lot of that is due to the incredible hard work of this team.

“They have been fantastic in keeping the momentum going, staying sane, keeping morale high and having fun every day. You have to be a team player in this role and everyone looks out for each other.”

Ujala said there were many others to thank including the surgeons, surgery nurses, anaesthetics theatre coordinator Dr Susan Voss, theatre nurse manager Lee-Ann McDonald and acting clinical director Professor Andrew Brooks.

“All the surgeons have been really accommodative, but special thanks to Dr Lawrence Yuen and Dr James Toh who have done amazing work. They’ve taken everything I’ve thrown at them and of course we couldn’t do it without them,” Ujala said.

“But I always tell my team that what we do here is not ‘just admin’. We are part of the big picture and we are actually helping people.”