Hospitals are “on the brink of collapse” and nurses are being pushed to their limits as the COVID-19 crisis worsens, a union representative from the NSW Illawarra area said.
Genevieve Stone, secretary of the Wollongong hospital branch of the NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association, said hospitals were in “bed blocks” – that is, they did not have empty beds for them. new patients – and faced severe nursing shortages.
This is in stark contrast to what the NSW government has repeatedly said about the state of the health care system; Prime Minister Dominic Perrottet told reporters on Friday that while there was “significant pressure” the “health system is strong, we have invested significantly”.
But Miss Stone said those comments did not reflect what was happening on the pitch.
“Contrary to what politicians say, from a nursing perspective, hospitals are not doing it,” Ms. Stone said.
Not only was there a influx of COVID patients, she said, but a growing number of workers were infected or had to self-isolate.
She said nurses worked a lot of overtime and double shifts to fill in gaps in the rosters, receiving daily text messages filled with calls for help, especially in critical areas.
Even management was working in the field in an effort to fill in the gaps, she said, and many nurses had not taken leave for more than a year.
Miss Stone described nurses forgoing bathroom breaks due to their workload and intensive care nurses spending all day standing in stuffy PPE.
She told the Illawarra Mercury that nurses not only had to cope with longer and harder working hours, but also demanded more emotional labor.
With visitors once again barred from entering hospitals, nurses provide patients with the emotional and mental support that their loved ones would otherwise have; this includes patients in palliative care approaching the end of their life.
Miss Stone said nurses were concerned about patient care and continued to fill in the gaps as best they could, despite the costs to themselves.
“At the moment, we still maintain patient care… But we are really struggling, from a nursing perspective, to maintain it,” she said.
A nurse from Wollongong Hospital said, “The amount of overtime we are working barely keeps the ward afloat.”
Miss Stone said stress forced many nurses to quit the profession, give up their hours or move to less critical areas.
“Burnout is at an all time high,” Miss Stone said.
She said the response from the local Illawarra Shoalhaven health district was “as good as it gets”, but the NSW government should look to improve funding and recruit more nurses, including in abroad and in agencies.
Nurses had campaigned with the government for years before the pandemic to increase the number of nurses and increase nurse-to-patient ratios, Miss Stone said, but the government had failed to respond to their demands.
“This is a situation that should have been dealt with much sooner,” said Miss Stone.
NSW Health assistant secretary Susan Pearce said on Friday that modeling suggested hospitalizations in NSW would peak between the third and last week of January, and by mid-February that peak would have been passed.
She also said the proportion of cases converting to hospitalizations was declining.