Mar 23, 2021

Nurses sidelined in Australian COVID-19 vaccine rollout

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However, under the government’s restrictions, nurse practitioners can only administer the vaccine while under the supervision of a general practitioner or another “suitably qualified health professional” while working in a private setting. 

These restrictions may hinder the rollout of the vaccine, particularly in rural areas where nurse practitioners are the closest access to health care. 

Speaking to the ABC, Australian College of Nurse Practitioners (ACNP) president Leanne Boase said that because nurse practitioners working outside the public system are not covered by the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS), many people would have to travel significant distances to receive their vaccine. 

“In the private sector, including rural and remote areas, nurse practitioners cannot access an MBS rebate,” Ms Boase said.

“That means rural and regional areas that currently have a nurse practitioner providing health care services will not be able to access the COVID-19 vaccination, they may have to travel significant distances to get the vaccine.”

“I think there’s a poor understanding of our [nurse practitioners’ career] pathways,” she added.

“We become expert registered nurses first, and we spend years getting experience and doing additional training, and only when we become very advanced, we then do a master’s degree to become a nurse practitioner,” Ms Boase explained. 

This is far from the only situation in which nurses are feeling excluded from the conversation in the fallout from coronavirus. 

This is a “super smart virus”

In Saturday night’s episode of A Current Affair, Ruby Princess and Newmarch House nurse, Debbie, said that the mishandling of the situation was directly responsible for her contracting the virus. 

With 30 years of experience, Debbie has worked all around the world as a nurse, including in the Middle East, following the Nauru riots and triaging refugees on Christmas Island. But nothing could prepare her for what she experienced in Newmarch House. 

“This is a super smart virus, and I don’t think it’s been given the respect it should have been in the beginning,” she said. 

Having worked treating crew members on the Ruby Princess as part of the Aspen Medical Team, she was then removed from the ship, and began working straight away at Newmarch House during its breakout after receiving a negative test result. 

“It was just a scene that you never want to see when you’re looking after someone with COVID,” she told A Current Affair. 

“There was a clean zone and a dirty zone, and you had to start putting on your gear once you entered that dirty zone.” 

Having to change her PPE suit 70 to 80 times a day, Debbie described the wings of the home as “bedlam”. 

Some residents were confined to their rooms, while other care recipients living with dementia were left to “[roam] the corridor”. 

“It’s got to be the worst human situation I’ve actually ever come across, or I’ve ever been in,” she shared. 

Debbie attempted to leave Newmarch House after six hours, but was convinced to stay for another seven. At that point she suggested shutting down the facility and calling in the defence force to manage the situation due to the high risk of transmission within the home. 

At the end of her shift, Debbie decided to walk away from the home in an attempt to protect herself and her family, knowing that the situation within the house was so volatile and the chance for infection so high. 

“[It] produced some pretty volatile stuff … It was a disaster,” she revealed to A Current Affair. 

“Could it have been done any better? Yes. Have they learned from it? No.”  

Unfortunately, Debbie was exposed to an older woman’s cough when she was unable to get a mask on fast enough, and she was diagnosed with COVID-19 just four days later. 

Debbie was hospitalised twice and suffered every possible symptom. She has been left with a range of conditions, including chronic asthma. 

Following the mismanagement of the situation, resulting in her contracting the virus, Debbie has started seeking legal counsel, saying that “someone needs to be made accountable”. 

“I contracted COVID. Should I have? No, but I did,” she said. 

Now working with Shine Lawyers, Debbie is investigating legal action against Aspen Medical and Anglicare Newmarch House. 

“In Debbie’s case, she’s got a remarkable amount of ongoing issues, and we’re investigating and making sure that she’s compensated for every single one of them,” said Emliy Clarke, who is heading Debbie’s case. 

Debbie’s evidence will form part of a coronial inquiry into Newmarch House later this year. 

Are you a nurse who has had their life drastically changed by the pandemic? Let us know in the comments.

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