Dr WOODRUFF question to MINISTER for HEALTH, Mr ROCKLIFF
We understand Tasmania's borders cannot stay closed forever. When we reopen, COVID 19 will come. The influx of people from COVID 19 states starts on 15 December and we must have our health system able to cope with the inevitable caseload. We are being contacted daily by Tasmanians who are extremely anxious about reopening. Health care workers have expressed concerns about the staffing plans.
While we have a fully COVID 19-vaccinated health workforce, vaccination does not always protect a person. Your department's dashboard data is evidence of a health system that already does not function to modern standards. With understaffing a chronic issue, how will you manage when some of the workforce may not be able to fulfil their duties? Have you modelled the number of healthcare workers who may contract COVID 19 under various outbreak scenarios? If you have, what do the models say? What plans are in place to deal with them? If you haven't, why haven't you?
Mr Speaker, I thank the member for her question. Yes, there is some natural anxiety around the opening of the borders across the community. I well understand that as Minister for Health, as does the Premier.
We have been planning and preparing for many months for the opening up of our borders. That includes vaccination. I must say, once again, that vaccination is the number one line of defence when it comes to COVID 19 preparedness.
The member raised a number of questions. I inform the House that, from Monday 8 November, there are 127 employees who remain non compliant in terms of the mandatory vaccination. This equates to 66 permanent employees, 11 fixed term and 50 casual who have failed to comply, representing less than 1 per cent of the workforce.
Understandably, Tasmanians are very keen to understand that our health system, which I have said on numerous occasions is experiencing increasing levels of demand in emergency department presentations and the like, and there are a number of areas we are working on in resourcing, hospitals recruiting more nurses and paramedics as well more broadly.
When it comes to the Reconnecting Tasmania plan, it will allow our borders to reopen safely to travellers while ensuring we have the health and safety nets in place to keep on top of COVID 19 during the reopening phases. We have undertaken modelling by Professor MacIntyre from the Kirby Institute and, based on our strong vaccination rates, we are confident that our state can reopen on 15 December and that our health system is as prepared as it can be.
As I have said, a significant amount of work has occurred over the past 12 months to ensure that our hospitals are ready, including increasing our public bed capacity. There will be 152 new beds by the end of this year; from May 2021 to December 2021, hiring an additional 840 FTE since July 2020 with further recruitment for new beds underway. Our escalation plans also provide, at their highest level, for a surge capacity of up to 211 COVID 19 ward beds across the state and up to 114 ICU surge beds. In addition, we now have two community care facilities: Fountainside in the south, with 50 beds, and the Coach House in Launceston, with 25 beds -
Dr Woodruff - You are proving my point. You are not talking about staffing. Have you done the modelling of healthcare workers?
Mr SPEAKER - Order, member for Franklin.
Mr ROCKLIFF - On equipment, we will have 367 ventilators available in the state and we already have a secure six month pandemic stockpile of the critical PPE that will be required.
The Department of Health is currently finalising our COVID 19 at home model of care, involving home pulse and oxygen monitoring and 24/7 support to assist to keep COVID 19 care in the community and save hospital beds for those who truly need it.
I say again, vaccination is the number one -
DR WOODRUFF - Point of order, Mr Speaker. Relevance. The minister has not got anywhere near this question. This is a media release. The fact is, it only provides 73 per cent infection -
Mr SPEAKER - That is not a point of order. Order, please sit down. You have asked the question. Please sit down,
Dr Woodruff - He needs to come some way close to answering the question, Mr Speaker. Have you done the modelling?
Mr SPEAKER - Order, member for Franklin.
Mr ROCKLIFF - There has been an enormous amount of work done in terms of this preparation, Dr Woodruff, and you well know that. I am going to repeat: vaccination is the number one priority. I have mentioned a number of times, in the recent outbreak in New South Wales -
Dr Woodruff - It is no enough.
Mr SPEAKER - Member for Franklin, if you interject again, you will be asked to leave.
Mr ROCKLIFF - I have mentioned it a number of times but it is a point that needs reinforcing, because in the outbreak 95 per cent of the 8851 people hospitalized with COVID-19 were not fully vaccinated. Every vaccination will count towards a safer border opening and will help reduce the load in our hospitals and the public health measures.
Ms O'CONNOR - Point of order, Mr Speaker. On behalf of the people who are contacting us and health care workers, I would like the minister to address the issue of whether there has been modelling about the impact on health care workers?
Mr SPEAKER - That is a separate question. The question has been put to the minister, he is answering it. The minister has the call.
Mr ROCKLIFF - I understand there is anxiety about what will happen when Tasmania opens its borders. That is only natural, particularly amongst those who are more vulnerable in our community, such as our elderly. We have prepared our health system as much as possible, with additional staff, more beds, ventilators, surge capacity, COVID-19 beds and ICU beds.
It is important to note that it has been shown nationally and internationally that the majority of people who are COVID-19-positive will experience a mild illness and will not require hospitalisation. They will be able to be treated effectively in their home. I have outlined the purchase of 2500 smart devices, which can be dispatched statewide and will enable daily monitoring of patients' pulse rate and oxygen levels as well.
We are continuing to focus on recruitment more broadly across the health system. Our recruitment efforts between 1 July 2020 and 30 June 2021 have been positive. Going to the member's question around staffing, we saw an increase of 655 paid FTE across the department
Mr SPEAKER - If you could wind up minister, please.
Mr ROCKLIFF - and I am advised that overall, we have increased FTE by 185 this financial year, taking the total to 850 full-time equivalents.
We are as prepared as we could possibly be, Dr Woodruff. I understand the question. I understand the concern in the community; but there has been an enormous amount of work done to prepare our hospitals, to prepare for care at home, as well as recruitment, in terms of our COVID-19 preparedness.