Tired and overworked healthcare workers in New South Wales were left with no choice but to support reducing the isolation rules for asymptomatic staff deemed close contacts of COVID-19 cases.
- Expert says reducing isolation for asymptomatic healthcare staff made complete sense
- President of the doctors union says patients will not be put in danger as a result of the change
- He also says healthcare workers have not been first in the government’s mind
Under an exemption to the Public Health Order signed by Health Minister Brad Hazzard on Friday night, these staff can now be ordered back to work.
Australian Salaried Medical Officers Federation (ASMOF) NSW president Tony Sara said hospitals were running out of staff and the pressure on the system was enormous.
In the latest reporting period, 901 people needed hospital care — a figure that has been creeping up in the past fortnight and is expected to soon hit 1,000.
"We're loading our hospitals with COVID-positive patients who need to be in hospital," Dr Sara said.
"We therefore had to reduce the ISO requirements, we don’t agree with it but essentially if the health system is not to collapse then ourselves, the nurses and the HSU [Health Service Union] — we don’t have a lot of choice but to agree.
"We have to make sure we supply the required services to normal patients as well as COVID patients."
UPDATES: Read our round-up of the latest news on the COVID-19 pandemic Dr Sara says patients will not be at risk of catching COVID due to the isolation changes for staff.(ABC News)
The ASMOF, which represents thousands of doctors, said close to 2,000 healthcare workers a day have been taken out of the system due to COVID and the changes to isolation were about "playing catch-up".
Dr Sara said it was a measured change that would not put patients in danger of getting infected.
"Staff in NSW will wear full PPE consistent with the circumstances, that will be face shields, it will be masks and gowns," he said.
"Within one-and-a-half metres of a patient, it will be a P2 mask, so I don’t believe patients need to be concerned about the staff looking after them."
It's a view shared by University of Sydney infectious disease specialist Robert Booy.
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He said the new isolation strategy made "complete sense".
There were too many people off work due to being furloughed or because they were "being too careful".
He said some facilities like the Children's Hospital in Westmead were already operating along similar lines.
"For a couple of weeks now, if you're a close contact, you get a rapid antigen test each morning before you come to work," Professor Booy said.
"To ensure you're not infectious, you're not likely to transmit — it makes complete sense."
Concerns about workers spreading the virus within the hospitals were mitigated by "a lot of layers of protection".
"Not only do people come to work with a negative test, they also come without symptoms, they also wear personal protective equipment," he said.
The Opposition has put the blame on Premier Dominic Perrottet for not putting in place a strategy to deal with the fallout from Omicron and increase resources.
The Opposition says the Premier is completely unprepared to deal with the spike in cases.(ABC News)
Shadow Police Minister Walt Secord said the turnaround from encouraging people to isolate to now trying to get them back to work was evidence of a stressed health system.
He said workers were exhausted and the Premier was completely unprepared.
"You have to put yourself in the situation of health care workers — nurses, doctors paramedics, even cleaners," Mr Secord said.
"Rules are being quickly changed and without consultation and they’re not been communicated, that’s absolutely unfair but it also puts the community at risk."
For Dr Sara, the government's decision to fully lift restrictions on December 15 could be called into question but for now, he is focused on preventing workplaces from losing more staff.
He said experts had warned about the transmissibility of the Omicron variant and its potential to overload the system.
"There is some frustration how it's gone over the last few weeks. Members feeling frustrated that Dr Chant's advice was not taken and look to where we’ve got to," Dr Sara said.
"Doctors and nurses have done the hard yards these last few years, they’re tired, they were looking forward to Christmas and now they are going back to work.
"This is not an ideal situation and it seems the needs of the frontline healthcare workers have not been first in the government’s minds."
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