The Code Brown activation is a first for Victoria during the pandemic.
Deputy State Controller Adam Horsborough said health services have been considering calling a Code Brown for some time, but believed now was the “right time” to activate it.
The Victorian government has declared a ‘code brown’ emergency as the hospital system strains under pressure from increasing COVID-19 cases.
The order, which comes into effect at midday on Wednesday and is expected to last from four to six weeks, applies to all public metropolitan hospitals as well as six regional hospitals.
A code brown is declared when additional capability and capacity needs to be mobilised to receive an influx of patients because of an emergency.
It gives hospitals the option to defer non-urgent health services and allow managers to recall staff from leave and also re-deploy them in high-priority areas.
The cancellation of leave would be negotiated between the hospital and staff.
The six hospitals in the regions the code applies to are Barwon Health, Grampians Health, Bendigo Health, Goulburn Valley Health, Albury Wodonga Health and Latrobe Regional Hospital.
In Victoria, the emergency code has been called for short periods and at individual hospitals, including the thunderstorm asthma event in 2016, but this is for a much longer and more widespread period.
“It’s also a necessary step so we can help face the challenges provided by both the caseload numbers and also the workforce shortages we’re experiencing across the system,” Horsborough said.
Acting Health Minister James Merlino said the code brown is necessary as the state is dealing with not only a high number of COVID-19 hospitalisations, but also a depleted and exhausted workforce.
“We’ve reached a point where our health system is juggling severe work shortages,” he said.