Health system facing a ‘catastrophic’ shortage 

22 July 2021

Unions warn that South Australian emergency departments would be headed for a “catastrophic” shortage if more health workers were ordered into quarantine because of contact with COVID-19, The Advertiser reports.

The emergency department at Modbury Hospital was locked down on Monday after a positive COVID-19 case was discovered, but NALHN said it reopened at 8am on Tuesday with appropriate staffing levels.

Health authorities quarantined at least 60 staff and patients who were in the emergency department around the time an 81-year-old infected man presented at the hospital. Among them were paramedics and about 25 nurses, the ANMF (SA Branch) said.

The closure fuelled a log-jam in all other metropolitan public hospitals on Monday, with an internal emergency declared at the Royal Adelaide Hospital – the second one this month. SA Ambulance also declared an internal disaster, with staff sent a text message asking whether they could “come in and help”.

ANMF (SA Branch) CEO/Secretary Adj Associate Professor Elizabeth Dabars AM told The Advertiser Modbury staff were “basically taken off shift and into quarantine hotels”.

“Obviously, it’s caused enormous disruption, delays and distress for both patients and staff alike,” she said.

Ms Dabars said the situation highlighted a lack of disaster planning.

“We’ve been exposed to the issue of COVID for at least 12 months … we’re not aware of any workforce plan to address this type of scenario,” she said.

“The reality is that there is already a shortfall of nursing and midwifery staff, which has resulted in enormous amounts of pressure and fatigue on the system already.”

Some 22 paramedics were taken off the road on Monday because of the positive COVID-19 case at Modbury Hospital.

The Ambulance Employees Association says the ambulance service was already so stretched that further COVID exposures could prove catastrophic.

Meanwhile, SA Health has moved clinical staff who are not fully COVID vaccinated out of high-risk areas, most notably birthing suites, The Advertiser reports.

Midwives who have not had both shots are now not allowed to work in birthing suites and a call has gone out to staff who are fully vaccinated to cover the shortfall. However, with many midwives regularly working overtime there are warnings the public system will have trouble coping. Unvaccinated staff working in other high-risk exposure areas are being redeployed.

Ms Dabars said the situation with the growing cluster in South Australia justified the changes. “Given the clear evidence on vaccination assisting to reduce viral load – and emerging evidence of reducing propensity of illness – it appears to be a reasonable public protection approach particularly given staff in these areas are working with vulnerable people, including babies,” she told the newspaper.

“We understand that those who are not vaccinated will be diverted into other areas of useful work in low-risk exposure areas.”