Australia has been witnessing a steep rise in cases in the community and among health workers as a result of the relaxation of safety protocols during holiday season. This has inevitably led to a staffing crisis in the arena which is in great demand of labour: hospitals. The number of patients inside designated COVID-19 wards is on the rise, general wards are being converted into COVID wards and numbers are surging in the general wards that remain.
ICU nurses are once again working excessive hours of double shifts and overtime. They are caring for a combination of ventilated and high dependency patients, some with COVID-19 and some without.
Staffing has become so bad that many ICUs are at present working without team leaders or the nurses they need in addition to bedside nurses to keep the units working seamlessly. Nurse educators have been forced to stop offering clinical supervision to take on patients of their own. This carries on while ICU teams attend to medical emergency calls from other parts of their hospitals.Emergency department staff are under increased pressure to perform basic, regular observations, and more patients are being left in chairs due to capacity issues.
Given how patient and medical staff safety takes high priority in these situations, nurses have been found to work in demoralising as well as unsafe situations. When pulled from home isolation, they can only travel to and from work. Moreover, they are not provided with rapid antigen kits for home use, having to do these tests at work under supervision. Some have been waiting three days or more for their PCR test results, even for testing that has been fast-tracked for health workers. Some have also been threatened with letters of disciplinary action if their sick leave is high, with or without medical certificates.
This calling back of workers as a result of staffing crisis is not found in hospitals alone. News reports also reveal this in the case of aged care employees. The work of care has been taking immense pressure in light of the pandemic with exposed employees having to carry on their duties, with Rapid Antigen Tests being carried out every 72 hours. However, in spite of having all hands on the ground, the staffing crisis continues to take a toll on the wellbeing and safety of employees as well as the quality of service delivered.