You are here

COVID-19 - Re-opening and Preparedness

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Wednesday, 10 November 2021

Tags: COVID-19, Hospitals

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Mr Deputy Speaker, the Greens will be supporting the Labor Party's motion. We understand the importance of making sure that everyone in Tasmania is as well protected as possible prior to the borders opening.

We agree with the concerns that are raised here about the ability of the health system to cope with a COVID-19 outbreak. We expect that the Director of Public Health will be watching the situation very closely and we hope that he places the appropriate restrictions on our movements, on whether we wear masks, on the density in venues and events, and the other restrictions needed for the unknown timing of the spread of Delta in Tasmania. Although the intention is to slow it down, it will arrive and it will spread.

We are concerned that the health system has no capacity to have any additional load on it. That is why we are raising the issues that we are about the furloughing concern for staff who may become infected despite the fact they are vaccinated. The minister again pointed to the effort that the Health department is making to ensure there are not people working who are unvaccinated. That is already the situation. No-one is allowed to work as a health care professional in Tasmania unless they have a double dose vaccination.

Despite having a double dose vaccination, there will be a risk that a proportion of people become infected if they are exposed to the Delta virus. That is what we need to prepare for. The minister keeps circling around this and talking about the importance of everyone taking responsibility for getting vaccinated. That is a very Liberal approach to this. It is going by the Liberal playbook about let us all take responsibility for ourselves. That is true, but it cannot be done without the whole system being protected at the same time. I absolutely accept there is a lot of work happening in the health system. I am not for one moment saying that is not occurring; however, there is more that can be done. The minister knows that and he keeps circling around the points that we, the Greens, are making on behalf of the ANMF about the problems with staffing today. We have a problem today before we have opened our borders, and I draw the minister's attention to the fact that the ANMF had to lodge an urgent application with the Tasmanian Industrial Commission regarding the ongoing staffing and workload crisis at the Launceston General Hospital emergency department.

The ANMF has many things to do every day and they do not go to the industrial commission without being forced to do it. It is not for fun, I can assure you, minister. It is a reality that sustained workload pressures are occurring at the Launceston General Hospital emergency department. These have been discussed for well over a year now and they are not getting fixed. So, in a situation where we have the nurses and midwives union taking the Government to the industrial commission just prior to the opening of our borders, we are reasonably concerned. So ought people who are watching the state of the health system be concerned at the fact that the minister fails to address this question.

Where is the response about how nurses in the north are being responded to on this matter? It has gone into some enterprise bargaining space. The minister is not talking and meanwhile patients are being ramped outside resuscitation bays and cubicles. According to the ANMF, there are persistent vacancies now that total over 30 FTE staff.

The minister can talk about the number of people who have been employed since the previous government but it is irrelevant. We have to look at the need that we have today. We have the Premier constantly talking about what a fantastic state our Budget is in. If that is the case why are we not funding those extra 30 full-time equivalent staff in the Launceston General Hospital? On behalf of Tasmanians, I honestly do not understand what the problem is here. It is not hard.

There is meant to be $300 million in a slush fund for contingencies that the Premier talked about. There is meant to be everything that possibly can be done by the Health department for COVID-19 reopening. One of them is not true. Everything is not being done. If there is money available, and we know there is, then it should be diverted towards this most critical area. We are only five weeks away from 15 December. Surely this is the time to make sure you have every single last position filled. As sure as eggs are eggs, when a person is infected in Launceston they will need to be absent for two weeks so fewer and fewer people will be available in emergency departments when we need them.

The ANMF has made a clear and passionate plea on behalf of their members to do what needs to be done to keep northern Tasmanians safe. On behalf of people in southern Tasmania, I say the same things stands. We have an emergency department at the Royal Hobart Hospital where the emergency room, which had been taken over in the ED from a potential hot COVID 19 space, is needed today for people coming into the emergency department to expand the capacity of beds in the emergency department.

If a person who is COVID-19 infected comes into the Royal Hobart Hospital, the emergency department will need to be taken over for that person. Those other beds will no longer be available for people who come in for hip fractures, or strokes or what other conditions where they need a bed before they can be seen as an inpatient in the hospital. That capacity which we have in the emergency department in the Royal Hobart Hospital today will not be available for emergency staff to put patients into. That is a concern.

Minister, please respond to the questions that I have raised. We have asked them before and we have not heard a response. On behalf of the ANMF and their members we need to understand why it is that you are not putting nursing staff first and doing the basics before we open our borders, having those extra staff positions filled and giving some longevity and commitment to the recruitment and retention process that is needed. It takes a long time to recruit and train and keep trained highly skilled nursing staff. That is why we need to start that process today.