Soaring COVID-19 hospitalizations have left one of Sydney’s largest hospitals in an “extremely vulnerable” position for the next few days, according to a leaked email obtained by ABC.
- St Vincent’s CEO said he was “running out of options” to keep the hospital adequately staffed.
- He said the hospital expected to see an increase in emergency admissions and patient care could be compromised.
- A nurses union said a major Sydney maternity unit was operating with staffing levels well below what was safe.
New South Wales Prime Minister Dominic Perrottet has repeatedly stated that the state is in a “strong position” amid rising infection numbers and chaos caused by mounting demands for testing.
But the situation within the public health system tells a different story.
Health unions and frontline workers in NSW say critical staff shortages during the holiday period have raised concerns about the quality of patient care.
An email sent to staff by St Vincent’s Hospital CEO Kevin Luong yesterday, obtained by ABC, outlined how low staffing levels could affect the next few days.
“We continue to experience critical staff shortages across the organization, particularly in nursing,” said Dr. Luong.
“While we are doing everything we can to fix this problem, we are beginning to run out of options to maintain safe levels of nursing staff.”
Dr. Luong said that canceling staff leave and offering incentives to work during the vacation period had not been enough to replenish staffing levels.
“Also, there is great concern that there will be an increase in erectile dysfunction. [emergency department] activity for the next several days, which can leave us extremely vulnerable and potentially compromise patient care. “
The executive director said a request was made for medical staff to “supplement or replace nursing staff,” but he was reluctant to implement it.
Instead, he wrote that the hospital would be considering other ways to “alleviate the overall demand on the hospital.”
“I am concerned that while some tasks, such as patient monitoring and evaluation, can be performed safely, others, such as medication management, may introduce other patient safety concerns,” Dr. Luong wrote. .
“I request that all senior medical staff urgently review their current inpatients, communicate with their teams and, where possible and safe, organize to discharge their patients as soon as possible.”
The Hospital de San Vicente is not the only health system that suffers.
The NSW Nurses and Midwives Association said many Sydney hospitals, including St Vincent’s and Royal Prince Alfred, were already operating below staffing levels due to COVID-19.
The union’s general secretary, Brett Holmes, said a major Sydney maternity unit had just three midwives for 14 deliveries last night, well below safe levels.
He accused the state government of ignoring all warning signs and removing some COVID restrictions too soon.
“Our members are angry with the government for its continued message that our hospital system is fine. It is not fine,” Holmes said.
“Our members are doing their best, but facing the abuse of patients who hope that our hospitals can operate with a staffing that is below minimum levels.
“We are below minimum staffing levels here in some areas and it is becoming unsafe. It is not safe for staff to continue working so much overtime, hopefully they will leave their families for long periods doing double shifts.”
The New South Wales government earlier this week dramatically reduced the period of isolation for healthcare workers who were categorized as close contacts to one week.
Perrottet said this had allowed 1,000 frontline workers to go back to work immediately.
The NSW Premier is scheduled to provide a COVID-19 update to the media later today.
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