Sep 03, 2021

“Never seen anything like it”: Sydney ICU nurse reveals anguish of working on the frontline

Sydney ICU nurse reveals anguish of working on the frontline

“We are exhausted. Last night was brutal,” nurse Michelle Rosentreter told columnist Peter FitzSimons in an article for the Sydney Morning Herald.

Rosentreter is a senior ICU nurse, and she spoke to FitzSimons at the end of a shift spent caring for COVID-19 patients in the ICU ward.

“We literally hit capacity” and are “just holding on,” she said.

Rosentreter described the high care needs of these seriously ill patients, saying nurses on eight-hour shifts end up working up to 14 hours because so much needs to be done.

“The patients are air-hungry, starving for breath. Just to turn a patient over, from on their back to on their stomach – which is something we must do regularly – and keep them breathing, needs six nurses. And we simply don’t have enough of us,” she told FitzSimons. 

The NSW Nurses and Midwives Association has been warning the government for over a year there would not be enough nurses in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak.

“We need more nurses!” said Rosentreter.

“And in recent times we have lost a lot of highly trained nurses to working in the vaccination hubs. Those hubs are important, but the actual vaccinations don’t require the high level of skills that a lot of those nurses have. We need them back.”

Rosentreter told FitzSimons she feels “super cranky” when people say COVID-19 is “no worse than a bad flu”.

“People who say that simply have no idea,” she told him.

Nurses holding the system together: Union

The NSW NMA said in a statement nurses have been “shouldering the burden of the pandemic, working their guts out to hold the health system together”.

Experiences such as those Rosentreter is enduring are putting nurses, their families, patients and residents “at risk,” the union says

According to the union, NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard is “dismissing” their concerns, denying the fact the hospital system is at risk of reaching breaking point.

Our members are telling “an inconvenient truth … In addition to the increased stresses of COVID-19, nurses and midwives are dealing with a significant reduction in staffing from forced isolation and redeployment of nurses to COVID-19 vaccination hubs, testing clinics and quarantine hotels.

There are currently over 900 COVID-19 patients in hospital, with 150 of them in ICU, requiring one-on-one care. 

“This puts an incredible strain on those who remain in our public hospital system,” the union said.

Nurses are “fatigued, burnt out and feel unsupported” and the current workload is “unsustainable”. 

The union is calling on the government to employ nurses who were upskilled with critical care training last year while there are still experienced ICU nurses working who can offer the guidance and supervision needed to care for COVID-19 patients.

This change is needed before the October peak hits, the union says.

“We are at breaking point”

Right across Sydney, ICUs are bracing for a surge in cases.

“We are at breaking point,” Rosentreter said. Their ICU is at risk of becoming completely overwhelmed if cases rise much further.

Rosentreter wants to see more nurses employed in hospitals and private hospitals to help ease some of the load on the public sector.

“Unless they do something, you are going to have people dying for lack of resources,” she said.

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