Portland District Health has become the first hospital in the state to convert anaesthetic machines into ventilators for COVID-19 patients.
With a shortage of ventilators across the world and in Australia, Portland anaesthesia director Dr Jun Parker said the new Draeger Atlan anaesthetic machines could be converted to help people with the virus.
"There is a global shortage of ventilators and with some of the people who contract COVID-19 requiring ventilation, it is feared there won't be enough in Australia to meet demand," Dr Parker said.
PDH made an early decision to enforce social distancing within the service and to scale back elective surgery to urgent cases, and has successfully implemented strategies in its anaesthetic suite to prepare for coronavirus.
Dr Parker said anaesthetic machines were designed to provide anaesthesia, not to provide long-term ventilation. "However, the principle behind ventilators used in intensive care is very similar and they can be modified to support long-term ventilation," said.
The machines can easily make the switch and don't require additional hardware.
"We are mindful of their shortcomings compared to a machine specifically designed for long-term ventilation use, but it's very good timing that they have arrived in Portland," Dr Parker said.
The machines were trialled last year and an order placed. "We were lucky to get the two machines before demand hit," Dr Parker said.
They have additional safety features particularly suited to rural settings, including strong connectivity, and monitoring capabilities, precision in ventilation and ability to share vital information with staff.
South West Healthcare chief executive Craig Fraser says he's confident it has an adequate number of ventilators onsite and the ability to "increase this capacity through the government's statewide ICU plan to supply additional ventilators to health services, if and when required."
"Additional to the ventilators we own ourselves, we know we can call on the Victorian Government's significant central pool of ventilators if this need arises," he said.
It is understood a large fleet of Draeger Atlan anaesthesia machines are on order at hospitals around Victoria.