Jan 20, 2022

“Come see how bad it is”: Nurses strike and call on Perrottet to experience dire ICU conditions

Westmead hospital nurses strike
Photo: SkyNews.

This message was handwritten on a sign she firmly clutched, with Ms Halvorsen one of around 60 ICU nurses who staged a protest outside the Sydney hospital’s emergency department yesterday. 

Speaking to a host of Australian media, Ms Halvorsen conveyed that at Westmead, ICU nurses are at breaking point from the pressures of COVID-19, and required much more assistance from the state government. 

Not mincing words, Ms Halvorsen said, “There is no on-the-ground actual support” – one of the reasons underpinning her decision to resign from her role in protest earlier in January. 

She continued, “We’re not OK and we’re being told just to ‘get on with it’, ‘come in, do your best’, ‘well done’, ‘thank you’. 

Reports are emerging from inside the hospital, with ICU nurses saying they are being pushed to the edge as COVID cases soar, resulting in excessive overtime and immense workloads.

Speaking of the core issues for the hospital’s 170 ICU nurses, personnel described 18-hour work days, and being expected to complete long shifts without breaks.

Nurses claim critical staffing shortages have also resulted in a loss of “hands on oversight” within the hospital’s most critical ward.

Timothy Blofield, a Westmead Hospital nurse and secretary of the hospital’s branch of the NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association, believed it was important to be present at the protest and to add his voice in solidarity. 

Speaking to reporters on the pressures facing staff at Westmead, he said that they were so dire, all were “struggling to keep this place going”.

“There’s only so much that the system can absorb,” he said, clearly moved.

Mr Blofield added, “At the very worst of times you can have someone chucking a double shift, which is anywhere between 16 to 20 hours long.”

Instead of merely hearing the calls for help, Mr Blofield called on Mr Perrortet to visit Westmead and experience for himself the condition staff, patients and the facility were in at western Sydney’s major hospital. 

Adamant and exhausted, Mr Blofield said to Perrottet, “Come to Westmead Hospital, come to this healthcare system that you think is working. Come here, have a look and talk to these nurses, ask them if they think the system is coping.”

Shaye Candish, the union’s acting general secretary, said the protest was to provide the public with a glimpse into the “desperate” state-of-affairs at the ICU. 

She implored the government to act quickly to address the understaffing, prior to the situation deteriorating even further. With already fatigued nurses pressured to work excessive overtime, Ms Candish is very concerned for staff and patient safety. 

She stated, “The NSW government needs to be up front with the community and concede the health system is not coping.

Fatigue and overwork are not just affecting nursing personnel – advocacy groups are highlighting that pharmacists are also buckling under the increased workloads brought on by COVID-19. 

The ABC reports that out of 400 pharmacists surveyed across the nation, 94% stated they were facing obstacles sourcing rapid antigen tests, while 33% were finding it increasingly difficult to source enough vaccines to match demand. 

Jill McCabe, chief executive of Professional Pharmacists Australia, highlighted that nearly 80% of pharmacies are without the necessary staffing levels to cope. 

“We believe the system is buckling under pressure right now,” she commented.

“We’re incredibly concerned about how pharmacists are confronting increased workloads, stress [and] pressure.”

Speaking to the “dire” current situation and its impact, McCabe noted that a lot of pharmacists may be pushed to the brink, relaying that many were considering leaving the sector. 

In a glimmer of hope for the nurses that raised their voice on Wednesday, government personnel have responded. 

NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard has acknowledged the pressures on nurses and said he has convened with the union in order to understand and react to their concerns. 

“I have been listening to their concerns and we are certainly considering some of the operational challenges they have,” Mr Hazzard conveyed to reporters on Wednesday.

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