We’re re-opening … but will the health system cope? 

27 October 2021

The ANMF (SA Branch) has expressed concerns about the apparent lack of a plan detailing how the health system is going to cope with the anticipated surge of COVID following the State Government’s “roadmap out of COVID” announcement yesterday.

November 23 is the start date for the easing of restrictions and re-opening of borders, with the unvaccinated urged to get vaccinated or risk contracting the virus.

One rural health advocate voiced fears of a large outbreak in regional and remote areas where vaccination rates are “well below’’ the state average and where there simply isn’t the health workforce to cope.

“Like everyone, we want to open up too but we don't want to do that in a way that doesn't recognise, or fails to recognise, how pressured the health system already is,’’ ANMF (SA Branch) CEO/Secretary Adj Associate Professor Elizabeth Dabars AM told ABC Radio.

“I can’t see a plan here. What we've had is an announcement of an opening date. But what we don't have is what the modelling is of the impact of COVID on the health system, which is already in disarray, and the plans to ensure that there's going to be enough staff to care for the people in those beds,’’ Ms Dabars said.

Ms Dabars told The Advertiser she feared there were not enough nurses and midwives to cope with any additional demand when Delta inevitably arrives in this state.

“As it stands, the Central Adelaide Local Health Network (CALHN) alone is trying to fill 280 nursing and midwifery vacancies (while) in one day alone in recent weeks, the Royal Adelaide Hospital (RAH) was unable to fill 28 night shifts and 35 day shifts,” she told The Advertiser.

“Staff are already working well beyond capacity and the system is overwhelmed daily.”

Ms Dabars said the Government’s plan to give jobs to 1,200 graduating nurses – up from about 600 in previous years – was welcome but was not the answer to COVID.

“We lobbied for that, we've been very pleased that they've listened and they going to do that (employ all graduating nurses),’’ she said.

“But we have to remember that those graduating nurses and midwives are novices. They need to be properly supported to become the future workforce. We do not want to see them become cannon fodder in an opening up that at the moment we can't see what the plans are to make sure that the health system can cope and, quite frankly, it's already not coping and that's what we're really worried about.

“So we're calling on the Government to release that modelling and to show their plans of how they are proposing to cope, because the situation is currently dire.

“Nurses and midwives both in country and metro are working 16-to-18 hour days and excessive overtime.

“It's wonderful that there's been this renewed passion to put in place roles for graduating nurses and midwives. But we certainly don't want to see them basically thrown out there and, as I said, used as cannon fodder, when what we need to do is support them and make sure that there is a proper plan to keep those beds staffed properly.’’