“Oour health care system remains strong, ”said our Premier. It’s hard to explain to the 91 year old woman who slept on a chair last night in the emergency department where I work. Or the cancer patient, on chemotherapy, stuck in the cancer treatment center for more than 24 hours, her travel delayed because she had become close contact while waiting for a bed.
Or the patient with suicidal ideation, who was programmed under the Mental Health Act, learned he had Covid-19 and is forced to wait indefinitely for days as there are no beds in the specialized mental health establishment.
Or the ever-increasing number of Covid-positive and suspected Covid patients we treat in a makeshift tent – literally a tent that has been set up outside the department because there is no room inside .
No, Prime Minister. As a nurse working in an emergency department in New South Wales, I can tell you that our healthcare system is no longer strong. After two years of fighting the pandemic, the foundations of our health system have been washed away.
We don’t have the capacity to handle the influx of Covid-positive patients. In addition to the Covid patients who require hospitalization because of the virus, the usual emergency room presentations have not stopped – there are still all the patients with strokes, heart attacks, hands torn from broken beer bottles. , legs broken from motor vehicle crashes, pregnant women with abdominal pain, children with boiling water burns – and they all have Covid-19.
These patients require treatment in an area separate from the rest of the emergency room patients to avoid a situation where patients come to the hospital and catch Covid-19. This area is in overcapacity. Sometimes we have to add additional chairs in the hallway to meet the demand. Ambulances had to wait over an hour to unload their Covid-positive patients because there is simply no room.
Despite the influx of patients, the nurse ratio does not change, creating a dangerous working environment. We are working with a small staff, as many senior colleagues have decided to resign after working in the field for the past 24 months.
It has become the norm for us that we are asked every shift to work overtime or come in on our days off. We do this, not for the extra money, but out of guilt and in solidarity with our colleagues so that they don’t have to work shifts with lethal nurse-to-patient ratios.
It is not uncommon for shifts to be so understaffed that they only have a third of the nurses needed. It is not a sustainable working model. The growing number of staff who themselves test positive are now making the problem worse.
In addition, there is the problem of the distribution of staff skills, which has become dangerous. To get through each shift, we depend on agency staff or staff sent from other areas of the hospital to work in areas where they do not have specialized training.
It’s just not sure.
Working conditions in hospitals deteriorated throughout the pandemic. Beds are replaced by chairs to make room for the growing number of patients. Tents pitched outside, exposed to the elements, to make additional space to treat the ever-growing number of confirmed and suspected Covid patients.
Nurses should work outdoors, in heat above 30 degrees, in direct sunlight, in blue plastic gowns, gloves, goggles, N95 masks and a face shield. Simple procedures take twice as long and are twice as difficult to perform due to infection control procedures.
We feel defeated: we are unable to provide the level of care we could before the pandemic.
What is most annoying, however, is the lack of recognition from our leaders as to how difficult this pandemic is for nurses.
Every day of this pandemic, we are expected to come to work without any additional risk premiums to put ourselves on the front lines of this deadly virus. With this latest wave, we have been begged to cancel our leave and extorted to dig deeper because our “community needs us more than ever”. Now we are told that we are exempt from isolating ourselves when we become close contact.
But when will our politicians take care of us? When will our politicians stop calling us ‘health heroes’ as if we are superheroes capable of weathering any disaster and stop ignoring our pleas for mandatory nurse-patient ratios? to ensure patient safety, and will they listen to our demand for a fair salary increase following the salary freeze imposed on us in 2020?
I worry about my colleagues and the job I have come to love.
We have already lost so many of our best senior nurses and paramedics in recent months due to fatigue from this pandemic. I just know that with this fourth wave of infections we’re going to lose a lot, a lot more.
My colleagues and I are more than tired.
We feel hopeless, we are afraid.
We have nothing more to give.