Hospitals scramble to prevent surgery cancellations due to global sterilisation wrap shortage caused by COVID-19 PPE demand

| 10.04,21. 08:47 PM |

Hospitals scramble to prevent surgery cancellations due to global sterilisation wrap shortage caused by COVID-19 PPE demand


The Princess Alexandra Hospital is just one Queensland hospital dealing with the shortage.(ABC News: Liz Pickering)


A global shortage of sterilisation wrap for surgical equipment has left Queensland hospitals scrambling to source alternatives, like stainless steel boxes and special plastic, to avoid cancelling patient surgeries, according to surgeons.

Royal Australasian College of Surgeons Queensland (RACSQ) state committee chair Dr Deborah Bailey said demand for personal protective equipment (PPE) during the pandemic had caused a worldwide decline in material for sterilisation wrap, with 30 per cent fewer supplies arriving in Australia.

Sterile wrap shortages vary across the states and their hospitals but the issue is affecting both the public and private systems.

The thick, papery, usually-blue covering is primarily used to wrap steel trays of clean instruments before they are placed into an autoclave to be sterilised at temperatures between 120 and 130 degrees Celsius.

Some surgical drapes and gowns are made of similar fabric.

Dr Bailey said there had been concerns a few weeks ago about whether elective surgeries would need to be cancelled.

However, health authorities and staff worked together to find alternatives for packaging sterile instruments and Dr Bailey said there was "no impact in Queensland so far".

"Surgeons are determined — with Queensland Health — not to cancel anybody because we've had a terrible time over the last 18 months with coronavirus," she said.

"We've all worked together well to find these alternative ways to keep sterile instruments sterile so that we can keep operating – and so far that's working very well in Queensland."

Dr Bailey said alternatives have included wrapping the sterile instruments in a special plastic, using sterile stainless steel boxes, "which have been rolled out across the state", and repackaging instruments in order to conserve the use of the sterile wrap.

A letter sent to staff this week at Brisbane's private Wesley Hospital at Auchenflower said the hospital was needing to substitute products for equivalents at times, due to limited supply.

"Most of these, while inconvenient, will not adversely impact on patient care," the letter said.

"There are products being rationed, or [we] have extremely limited supply from certain suppliers.

"Many of the surgical drapes and wraps fall into this category, which will pose a risk to elective surgery in the months ahead."

The hospital said that in light of the shortages, staff were urged to minimise use "where it is clinically safe to do so".

Looking for alternatives
In a statement, Queensland Health said supply chain issues were affecting the global availability of sterile wraps, with reduced supplies expected from April to June.

"Queensland will work with other states and the Commonwealth about what alternatives may be available," the statement said.

"We expect to have further information from the Commonwealth this week and will determine how any shortage will be managed in Queensland hospitals."

Dr Bailey said Queensland was working with other state's health departments.

"They're using a council of health ministers put together for the coronavirus response to try and see what they could do," she said.

"So far, Queensland is holding up well".

Surgery delays from PA Hospital COVID cluster
On Wednesday, the state's Chief Health Officer, Dr Jeannette Young, said the shortage was a national issue.

She said that while no elective surgeries had been delayed in Queensland due to the sterile wrap shortage, there had been delays stemming from the recent COVID-19 outbreaks at the Princess Alexandra hospital.

"PA Hospital had delays that then flowed on to other hospitals — because other hospitals had to pick up the urgent cases at the PA," Dr Young said.

"So, there have been a number of delays through the system."

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) said it was seeking information from medical device suppliers about the availability of their products and sharing this with jurisdictions.

"The TGA has received reports of potential global disruption to the supply of polypropylene used in the manufacture of sterilisation wrap," it said.

"The TGA has identified 177 inclusions on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG) for 'sterilisation packaging', including autoclave pouches, reusable containers and polypropylene sterilisation wrap."

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