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Hazzard must Immediately Act on ICU Nurse Shortage

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Cate Faehrmann
NSW Greens MP
24 August 2021

Greens MP and Health spokesperson Cate Faehrmann has written to the Health Minister today calling on him to take urgent action to stem the growing crisis in Intensive Care Units in the state’s hospitals in Western and South Western Sydney, which are at breaking point. Stories have emerged in recent days of ambulances with Covid patients being turned away because there are not enough ICU-trained nurses for the number of Covid patients filling up ICU beds in Westmead, Blacktown, Nepean, Campbelltown and Liverpool hospitals.

“Once again the NSW Government has been too slow off the mark in responding to this outbreak, and it’s costing lives. When I asked the Health Minister during Budget Estimates yesterday whether the state’s ICUs can cope with the growing number of Delta cases, he brushed it aside as though everything was fine,” said Ms Faehrmann.

“Just yesterday Minister Hazzard said that no concerns have been raised with him about ICU capacity in risk or experiencing any major challenge at the moment. Yet, just overnight it’s being reported that at least two thirds of Westmead’s 30 ICU beds are occupied with Covid patients, while lines of ambulances can’t offload their Covid patients, and it’s similar elsewhere.

“This response isn’t good enough from the Health Minister. ICU staff are exhausted and at breaking point, especially with the knowledge that things are going to get a hell of a lot worse before they get better.

“Is the NSW Health Minister deliberately hiding what is happening in ICUs in the epicenter of this crisis, or is he simply refusing to listen to the pleas of exhausted doctors and nurses and their unions?

“The number one shortage in terms of staff are nurses who have received the requisite training to work in ICU. There’s not much point in boasting about having 2000 ventilators ready if they’re needed, if we don’t have the staff to operate them,” said Ms Faehrmann.

Here are a few things that the Health Minister could right now: 

  1. Redeploy ICU nurses from areas with no, or low Covid cases, to hospitals in western and south-western Sydney struggling to cope 
  2. Provide incentives for retired nurses and other health professionals to return to work, and give early sign-off to student nurses to enter the workforce, as Victoria did in last year
  3. Provide ‘risk payments’ for nurses working on Covid-19 wards
  4. Pandemic leave for healthcare workers including casual and agency workers who are forced to isolate due to COVID-19
  5. Approach state and territory governments not dealing with an outbreak to put a call out for additional healthcare workers
  6. Provide accommodation to healthcare workers who want, or need, to isolate from their families
  7. Draw upon any additionally ICU-trained nurses from 2020’s surge planning
  8. Provide standardised airborne grade PPE to protect health workers from infection and reduce the potential of an outbreak to impact on staffing levels
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Cate Faehrmann
NSW Greens MP
24 August 2021
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