More elective surgery restrictions have been eased in South Australian hospitals as the statewide code yellow continues, the Health department says.

The code yellow system-wide internal emergency was declared a fortnight ago due to many staff being off sick with COVID and other illnesses.

The department said it had been another busy week across the health system but there had been “some improvements”, allowing for further easing of elective surgery restrictions.

It said metropolitan and peri-urban hospitals would be able to resume all planned day case and 23-hour elective surgery from 5pm today.

Non-urgent category two and category three surgeries, which require a planned overnight inpatient hospital stay, remain on pause unless they have an individual exemption.

The department said category one and urgent category two elective surgeries would continue as planned, along with all paediatric, dental and IVF-related surgery.

Elective surgeries resumed at regional hospitals last week and will continue — as long as the hospitals have sufficient bed capacity and staffing levels.

Health Minister Chris Picton said the situation was being constantly reviewed.

“This is a big lift in terms of those restrictions, some 90 per cent of those restrictions will now be lifted as of 5 o’clock today,” he said.

South Australia’s Health Minister Chris Picton says the government is continually monitoring the code yellow situation.(ABC News: Che Chorley)

The code yellow measures include a centralised Incident Management Team, maximising use of private hospitals and alternative care pathways, cancelling non-essential meetings and increasing infection control options.

“South Australian hospitals are still facing significant pressures in terms of demand on the system … we’re facing very big numbers in terms of COVID, flu, RSV and other winter viruses over the past few weeks,” the minister said.

“We are still facing significant demand, we are still facing pressure within our emergency departments, particularly in terms of getting access to beds in the rest of the hospital system.

“That is being worked through with our clinicians on an hour-by-hour basis to make sure we can free up that capacity as much as possible.

“We know we need additional beds in the system, and we are building those additional beds.”

‘Not going to put a timeline on’

Mr Picton said there was currently no timeframe for when the rest of the elective surgery procedures could resume.

Health department chief executive Dr Robyn Lawrence said work was continuing to improve flow through the hospital systems and getting patients into home care and residential aged care.

“It’s really important that we watch very carefully as we reintroduce the elective surgery to make sure that we don’t lose traction on the initiatives that we’ve started,” she said.

“I’m not going to put a timeline on the continuation of the code yellow. We will continue to review it on a daily basis. 

“The priority next is to get back our multi-day surgery, the remaining 10 per cent of activity that is still in reduction — once we’ve done that safely and we’re comfortable then I will consider standing down the code yellow.”

SA Health chief executive Robyn Lawrence said the next priority is lifting restrictions on the remaining elective surgeries.(ABC News: Lincoln Rothall)

Dr Lawrence said staff were working hard under immense pressure.

She said she could not put a number on those impacted by the pause on elective surgery, but said the “bulk” of elective surgeries would now be resuming.

Ministers release open letter about health concerns

Mr Picton has co-signed a letter with his state and territory counterparts calling for swifter federal action on GP numbers and aged care places.

In response, Federal Minister Mark Butler today met with Australia’s health ministers in Adelaide over concerns about funding, bulk billing and aged care services.

Mr Picton said the open letter related “to concerns we all have about the state of our health system across the country”.

“We do need significant reform and we do need contribution from the federal government to address the issues that we see, not only in our hospitals but in GPs and aged care that all contribute to Australians missing out on the healthcare that they need,” Mr Picton said.

Mr Butler said negotiations for a new hospital funding agreement were currently on hold, but he was keen to progress them as soon as possible.

“The Commonwealth put additional funds — at least an additional $13 billion — on the table but it was very clear that those negotiations were expected to progress in tandem in negotiations around disability reform,” the federal minister said.

He said hospital funding negotiations had been put on pause to “allow disability negotiations to catch up”.

“I’m keen to restart that process as soon as we possibly can,” Mr Butler said.

“There’s been a really good level of consensus among health minsters about what the next hospital funding deal should look like but obviously we’ve got to wait until disability ministers and others are able to progress their work.”