‘Out of touch with reality’: NSW doctor says hospital staff suffering burnout, as Premier backs system

An emergency doctor working at several Sydney hospitals has challenged the NSW Premier to spend a week in an emergency department to get a glimpse of what life is really like on the COVID-19 frontline. 

Key points:

  • The doctor says staff are suffering "enormous burnout"
  • The Premier and Chief Health Officer are confident in the system's ability to face COVID case rise
  • One mother says she waited a week for support as her child battled COVID

The senior doctor, who wished to remain anonymous, said Dominic Perrottet's repeated assertion that hospitals were in a "strong position" was "out of touch with reality".

The real picture, she said, was one of overworked doctors and nurses who are having to take extra shifts and cancelling their leave to help out. 

"Staff are working harder and longer. That is the only thing holding the system together and it's not a long-term option," she said.

Hospitalisation data released by NSW Health covering the period to 8pm on Sunday showed the highest number of people being treated with COVID since September 23.

There were 1,204 people with COVID in the state's hospitals, up from 1,066 the day before.

Only 95 patients were in intensive care, with 25 people on ventilators.

Responding to the doctor's challenge, Mr Perrottet doubled down on his comments about the readiness of the NSW health system, saying "our state is standing strong".

"Our focus now — and we monitor it every single day — is our health system capacity, including our hospitalisation rates and our ICU capacity," he said.

"This spirit and the efforts of everyone over the last two years, especially our frontline health workers, have been extraordinary."

LIVE UPDATES: Read our blog for the latest news on the COVID-19 pandemic Dominic Perrottet says the health system remains in a strong position.(ABC News: Brendan Esposito)

The doctor, however, said she has seen colleagues experiencing "enormous burnout", which she claimed had forced some to quit their jobs or enter an early retirement.

"Every health care worker and cleaner and administration worker in hospitals knows how far from the truth this is," she said.

"All of them are so upset when they hear him making those comments because it shows such a disconnect between his reality and their reality.

"It would be a wonderful thing if he could spend a week in a hospital to see the reality that everyone is living with."

Chair of the Australian Medical Association's NSW branch Michael Bonning said the high number of staff being forced into isolation due to COVID concerns was making it difficult to staff hospitals properly.

"It just means pushing [staff] harder and harder [when] one of the things we were trying to do across this Christmas period was to try to give staff downtime, to try to prepare them for … what comes next," he said.

NSW COVID-19 update

COVID-19-related hospital admissions continue to rise as the health union warns that the system will soon reach a critical phase.

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On Monday, Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant said NSW Health had one of the largest workforces in the country but, like many health systems around the world, it was under stress.

"Whilst we are very well placed … in that global context to manage this case burden, it is important that we all play our part in not placing unnecessary burden on the health system," she said.

There were 20,794 new cases reported yesterday from 96,765 official tests — a positivity rate of more than 21 per cent.

The peak of NSW's hospitalisation numbers for COVID was 2,166, which came at the height of the last year's deadly Delta wave on September 21.

At that point, there were 244 people in intensive care wards.

Mr Perrottet said ensuring the health system had the resources it needed during the pandemic was his "number one priority".

"As we move to this next stage, there will continue to be challenges thrown our way but we will keep tackling them and succeed," he said.

The strains on the health system have been felt by a mother from NSW's north coast, who says her family was without support while her young son with special needs suffered from severe COVID symptoms.

Kim Dawson told the ABC her eight-year-old son, Eli, who has non-verbal autism, was tested on Christmas after contracting the virus from his carer.

By the time health workers rang to offer medical equipment — including an oxygen monitor — it was New Year's Day and he had already recovered, Ms Dawson said.

"It just seems laughable it took so long for someone to contact us," the East Ballina woman said.

Dr Kerry Chant says the hospital system is there for the people who need it.(AAP: Mick Tsikas)

It took five days for the test result to confirm Eli had the virus — in the meantime, he battled a fever and woke up one morning barely able to breathe.

Ms Dawson said her son often had extreme responses to viruses and developed croup.

"We were very close to calling an ambulance but we managed to calm him down," she said.

She said her family had been caught in a "perfect storm" of rising case numbers and holiday-goers ballooning out wait times for COVID tests.

NSW Health said it "has the largest and most skilled health workforce" in Australia with more than 140,000 staff.

The state government has recently altered self-isolation laws to allow asymptomatic health staff who are deemed close contacts to return to work if they hold critical roles.

"Since the start of the pandemic, NSW Health has engaged in forward planning with clinicians to ensure our hospitals have capacity to care for COVID-19 patients who need to be hospitalised," a spokesperson said.

"NSW's healthcare system is fully integrated and staff can be deployed to different parts of the health system as needed due to patient demand, workforce supply challenges and the hospital's capacity to surge."

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Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news

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