Forget coping with Covid, we’d fail flu outbreak

Raising a myriad of concerns over Wide Bay Hospital and Health Service staffing and resources, Together Union lead protest organiser Allison Finley-Bissett said “if we get a flu season we’re broken”. Ms Finley-Bissett said thankfully since Covid-19 became a reality, the region had not had a flu season, but she feared what could happen if flu season hit, or worse, there was a Covid outbreak. “The members won’t be able to manage it… ” she said. “(It’ll) be tents in the park in town, it will be like New York City had that mass unit you know, remember in Central Park, at the height of Covid – that’s what we’ll have to do because we’ve got no spare beds here and we don’t have any spare beds anywhere else.” However, Wide Bay Hospital and Health Service CEO Debbie Carroll was more confident in the region’s ability to manage an outbreak. She said the typical influenza season in the Wide Bay peaked in July and August, and this year, a total of eight lab-confirmed cases of influenza had been recorded in Wide Bay. None had been recorded in the past four weeks, she said. This compared to an average 634 cases at the same time for the previous five years. “There is no indication of a late influenza outbreak as there would be a steady build-up in numbers of influenza in the lead-up to an outbreak,” she said. “There would also be other sharp increases in numbers in other parts of Queensland and across the nation – this has not occurred. “We encourage people not to engage in unrealistic hypotheticals that create unnecessary fear in the community.” Ms Carroll said the Wide Bay HHS was also prepared for any future outbreak of Covid-19 in the region. “Our region has one of the best vaccination rates in Queensland and we’re confident in our team’s ability to respond because of their track record,” she said. “Our hospitals and fever testing clinics have proven throughout the pandemic that they can handle sudden changes in our local situation and any increase in demand for their services. “Our public health unit has managed 15 Covid-19 cases in the last 12 months, without a single case of onwards transmission in our community. “On top of this, our public health unit have immense experience in handling Covid-19 outbreaks as they have also stepped in to manage cases, close contacts and venues for other regions as part of the state-wide response.” MORE BUNDABERG NEWS: Upgrades to Bundaberg Recreational Precinct to finish in the next month Ms Carroll said Wide Bay HHS thanked its medical, nursing, allied health and non-clinical staff for their ongoing commitment to providing the best possible care for their patients. “They’re doing a wonderful job responding to the unprecedented growth in demand for health care from our community,” she said. “To support our Bundaberg Hospital staff and patients we’ve increased our inpatient capacity in the last three years by adding a new 24-bed medical ward at Bundaberg Hospital. “Our team works closely with the private health sector and have arrangements in place to use private bed capacity across the region to free up public hospital beds. “We’ve also opened new facilities in Bundaberg such as the Mental Health Community Care Units and the Step Up Step Down centre.” She said Wide Bay HHS had also developed new models of care to prevent repeat hospital admissions by supporting people to manage their conditions in their own home, such as the Geriatric Emergency Department Initiative and Integrated Care Services. “These are all significant investments in our health service aimed at addressing the growing needs of the Bundaberg community,” she said. “That said, the unprecedented year-on-year growth is beyond what any analyst or expert body predicted for our region which has resulted in significant pressure being placed on our recently expanded local services. “We understand and appreciate that our staff are feeling the impact of this growth in demand. “Wide Bay HHS remains committed to working with our staff and with Queensland Health as we face these challenges and ensure that our community receives the best care possible.” Ms Finley-Bissett said the critical issue was a lack of allied health resources. She said Bundaberg and across the Wide Bay HHS, there was an ageing population that needed a more comprehensive health service. She said they needed the physiotherapists, social workers and occupational therapists just to make sure they could go home safely, or they may have to go into aged care. She said a shortage in aged care beds was also problematic. “Just being able to get the aged care documentation filled out is a huge block within this health service,” she said. Ms Finley-Bissett said in Bundaberg staff were “discouraged” from filling out workload forms for “some time because no one was doing anything with it”. “We have actually now got some resolutions happening here from members, that they’re going to make sure that they are documenting their workload issues and that they are documenting their fatigue concerns and risk-mans, which they had previously been discouraged from doing so,” she said. “When you’ve got a fatigued situation with your workforce, you’re going [to] have mistakes happen – and we don’t want mistakes happening for our community. “The patients that come in here, because they are older, often have more complex needs, and they need to have people that are rested, refreshed and able to come in and do their roles well.” She said recruiting to positions was another matter of concern. “There is clearly some delays in getting approvals happening so we can get additional staff,” she said. “There is a concern that a lot of people are going off sick because of fatigue and so forth, and then we get the issue that we can’t get anyone in to replace them.” While praising the workforce that was in place, Ms Finley-Bissett said there would come a time when you got past the point of being able to assure the public that mistakes were not happening. “But if you get a fatigued workforce, that’s the risk, it certainly is,” she said. “But I will say these are the best bunch of workers, they really do amazing stuff for the community, they go beyond what they’re paid to do.” Union delegate and local admin-based worker Aajay Smith said while he was not directly on the front line, he heard a lot of talk behind the scenes of people being tired and getting burnt out. He said patients did not stop coming to the hospital. “It’s something that just continues, it doesn’t stop and unless we get more staffing to look after the patient, patient care suffers, patients are affected, families have a hard time as well,” he said. Mr Smith said “there can’t be adequate patient if we can’t get adequate staff to look after the patients”. MORE BUNDABERG NEWS: Planned Bargara vet clinic rejected by Bundaberg council He said there were no words to describe how fed up he was. “We’re sick and tired of getting to the point where we have to go to the media to get our point taken,” he said. Mr Smith said it had always been an issue to one degree or another, but it had escalated to “breaking point”. He wants to see changes that lead to better outcomes for everyone: “more staff, more resources, meeting the current needs and levels of where we need to be”. When asked if the region could manage if a Covid-19 outbreak were to occur, he said “no, quite strictly no”. He said the region was it is very fortunate, but stressed how a flu season, that we’ve largely missed to this stage, increases pressure on the service. Mr Smith said something like the Covid-19 pandemic would put an “extreme amount of pressure” on the health service. “We’re constantly being told we’re at capacity, we’re over capacity, I don’t see how having extra patients affected by a Covid outbreak is going to do any good,” he said. “I just don’t see how we can handle it.” Patient advocate Beryl Crosby is “very concerned about the staff shortage at the moment”. “I think that the management this time has failed with the people who work in the hospital, to support them to the capacity that they need,” she said. “I mean stressed and overworked staff make for mistakes and that’s just a fact, it’s nothing against the staff; but when you’re overworked, you’re stressed and can’t cope, that makes for patient safety error. “So I’m concerned that patients will be harmed.”

Forget coping with Covid, we’d fail flu outbreak

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