Staff at Wollongong Hospital claim that patient care is ‘low all the time’ in the midst of the COVID wave

Staff at a major regional hospital have expressed concern about their ability to provide adequate care to patients due to a sharp increase in COVID-19 admissions and an exhausted workforce.

In just one week, the number of people with COVID-19 in hospitals across the Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District (ISLHD) has increased from 38 to 93 patients.

It happens when the region recorded its largest daily increase in COVID cases with 2,169 new infections and two deaths.

Alex (not her real name) is a public health worker at Wollongong Hospital and spoke to ABC on condition of anonymity due to health department rules prohibiting her from speaking directly to the media.

“There are certainly not enough staff at the moment, people are doing double shifts, I heard a colleague say today that she worked day and night shifts,” she said.

“Everyone is tired, everyone is exhausted.”

A large white tent stands outside the entrance to Wollongong Hospital
Staff at Wollongong Hospital say they are exhausted and worried about the growing number of COVID patients.(ABC Illawarra: Nick McLaren)

Wollongong Hospital – which cares for most patients with COVID – has reached capacity in its two dedicated coronavirus wards and has opened two more wards to treat COVID-infected patients.

Shellharbour and Shoalhaven Hospitals have also opened dedicated COVID-19 wards.

Alex said that in some cases, nurses took care of twice their usual patient load, and she feared the system would be overwhelmed if hospital admissions continued to rise.

“I’m not sure what’s going to happen at the top when it hits in a few weeks,” she said.

“There are people who spend time in the emergency room on needles with fluid because they do not have beds.”

people in line
The Nurses’ Union says the government is not honest about the situation at NSW hospitals.(ABC Illawarra: Tim Fernandez)

Anger over government’s ‘interruption’

The NSW Nurses and Midwives Association (NSWNMA) said its members were angry at the NSW government for not recognizing the extent of what is happening in state hospitals.

“Our members are under extreme pressure,” said Acting Secretary-General Shaye Candish.

“There is a real disruption between what they say and what our members see.”

The union said the government needed to act now to ensure hospitals were not overwhelmed at the height of the Omicron outbreak.

“The government must do everything it can to support workers through this incredibly difficult time, and the first thing they can do is be honest with the public about what is going on,” Candish said.

“It’s the only way this hospital system is going to work and give staff a real hope of getting through the top.”

Staff relocated

ISLHD has adapted its COVID response due to increasing case numbers, and has introduced measures to prevent the transmission of the virus in hospitals.

“In response to an increasing number of COVID-19 positive patients being treated in the hospital for other conditions, the local health district has now established COVID management plans for individual wards,” said ISLHD CEO Margot Mains.

“Where a patient being treated in a non-COVID ward develops symptoms and tests positive, immediate measures are taken to minimize the risk to other patients, including the implementation of additional infection control procedures, and a care plan established in accordance with COVID- 19-patient management protocols. “

Meanwhile, Bulli Hospital has been converted into housing for COVID cases, and staff from the hospital have been relocated to address the shortage of emergency departments at the region’s four major hospitals.

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