The latest COVID outbreak feels like we’re back where we started. But unlike March 2020, we’ve had time to prepare our health system should the number of cases rise. We should also have learned experiences from overseas. I hope those lessons are reflected in our response.
Once again, I find myself wishing I could write about something other than COVID. Writing this column is a bi-monthly exercise, but each and every time it comes up, it seems there has been a new development in the pandemic that is hard to ignore.
NSW is facing the most difficult challenge we’ve had to date in the COVID-19 crisis. Coupled with a variant that is more easily transmissible, is a population that is under-vaccinated – thanks to both a plagued rollout and some vaccine hesitancy.
The State is now scrambling to get on top of this outbreak and day by day the worry of doctors increases about what the impact on our hospitals will be if it’s too late.
Unlike March 2020, we’ve had time and opportunity to prepare our health system should the number of cases rise. We should also have learned experiences from overseas. I hope those lessons are reflected in our response.
What we continue to struggle with is capacity.
The latest Bureau of Health Information results for January to March 2021 clearly reveal a hospital system that is under pressure. Emergency department presentations have rebounded to pre-pandemic levels, with a 6.2% increase in Triage category 2 (emergency) presentations.
The number of emergency department patients treated within the clinically recommended time frames fell 1.7 percentage points from the same quarter the previous year, while the number of patients who spent four hours or less in the emergency department was down 3.0 percentage points compared to the same quarter in 2020 – this was the lowest percentage of patients who spent four hours or less in the ED for any quarter over the past five years.
We’re seeing an increase in patients who require emergency care and a corresponding decline in our ability to treat patients within the clinically recommended timelines.
AMA (NSW) has called for greater resourcing of our hospitals to address these problems and the AMA has recently released a blueprint for a new funding approach. This blueprint, calling on the Commonwealth to increase their contribution to 50%, was just part of a brilliant document outlining AMA’s Vision for Australia’s Health – I encourage you all to read it.
To build the best possible health system for our future, we need both resourcing, and strong senior clinician engagement.
AMA (NSW) recently closed our Senior Doctor Pulse Check survey, which had more than 1000 respondents. The results are sobering. One of you noted, “I have been on the staff of my hospital for 40 years and have never known it to be more dysfunctional and for morale to be lower than it is now.”
Almost 70% said they do not feel valued by their hospital. More than 80% of doctors indicated they are experiencing workplace stress, with a significant number citing excessive workload and lack of resources as being contributors to this stress.
AMA (NSW) will be evaluating these results in more detail and outlining our response to Government accordingly. We are currently producing a report to be released next month.
In the meantime, stay safe Sydney. And let’s work to get this under control (and keep it out of regional areas). Together, we’ll get through this.