National

Hospital prepares for coronavirus flood

By AAP Newswire

When a local GP tested positive for the coronavirus, alarm bells went off at a hospital in Melbourne's eastern suburbs.

Cabrini hospital in Malvern decided to act when it realised a virus that had affected other countries had hit so close to home.

Assisted by the Victorian government, the hospital has now more than doubled its ICU capacity to 26 beds.

It would be able to further extend that capacity to 60 beds If the COVID-19 crisis puts more pressure than expected on the health system.

"There's been a lot of work to prepare the hospital and expanding intensive care," Cabrini's director of emergency medicine Michael Ben-Meir told AAP.

"We have all been hearing about COVID-19 since January in China but after that GP report around three weeks ago, we thought there were very strong possibilities we were going to be inundated."

Dr Ben-Meir said he hoped social distancing measures decreed by the government would help avoid that scenario, but said the hospital would be able to manage all patients coming through.

Cabrini hospital has established protocols to separate and treat coronavirus patients, increase staffing and get protective equipment with the help of the state government.

The hospital will also perform urgent surgeries that might not be able to be carried out in other hospitals dealing with coronavirus patients.

"We felt we had a huge amount to offer in terms of a COVID response, but without assistance we probably wouldn't have been able to do it," Dr Ben-Meir said.

"We have capacity, the smart thing for the community is to use all the capacity at reach."

More than 34,000 extra hospital beds will be available to help Australia deal with the coronavirus pandemic under a new deal struck with the private sector.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said the deal was a significant stride in increasing the system's capacity while guaranteeing the viability of all 657 private hospitals.

Victoria is set to announce its own deal with private hospitals, providing an extra 9000 beds.