Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Mr Speaker, we have now had regular rolling industrial action from a number of unions in Tasmania and they are expressing a pent-up feeling of desperation at repeatedly not being listened to. It started well before the state election last year, when we stood with nurses from the LGH as they protested outside the hospital at the situation in the emergency department and they were at that time in industrial action, because of the staffing ratios in the hospital that were intolerable for staff and worse, creating health risks for patients in the LGH.
Here we are nearly 18 months later and there is no change and in fact the wheels are falling off. They are falling off in hospitals and in Ambulance Tasmania. I sincerely hope that that is literally not the case. However, what we are seeing is well captured by the new president of the AMA in Australia, Professor Steve Robson. He tweeted a couple of days ago:
There are no ambulances because they are all parked outside emergencies with patients in the back because the place is in logjam and people cannot go to the wards because all the staff have COVID and there are no places in the community to discharge them to. NOBODY SAW THIS COMING.
Mr Speaker, that last phrase was said with obvious irony. He wrote that in incredible frustration in all caps, which is not the usual method of communication of the AMA president. It just goes to show and I am very glad that we have in the AMA and in Tasmania as leaders in a number of our professional bodies and unions, people with real courage to stand up and ask what is happening.
What is happening is a couple of decades of a particular neoliberal approach to shrinking the size of public-funded services and outsourcing investment into the private sector. On top of that, we have had serial underfunding, budget on budget, in Tasmania for the health service, the hospitals and Ambulance Tasmania, despite the clear warnings we have heard for years now from both the ambulance professional body and the ANMF of the real-life consequences of that. Into this space we have also had COVID-19 and this Government, this Premier, this Health minister has exacerbated the situation by refusing to take the sorts of preventative actions which could depress or slow down the number of people who are becoming infected, and more worryingly reinfected, with COVID. So what we have every single day is hospital wards, surgeries, discharge areas, aged-care places, cleaners and people who provide food for people with disabilities who are living in their homes, people who ought to be in psychiatric wards or community mental health services, are getting COVID-19. They are passing it on to their colleagues. We know from the testimony of people who are working in emergency departments that huge numbers of people are simply not able to turn up to work. This is not something that is going to go away.
Despite the many conversations I have had in good faith, as an epidemiologist and the health portfolio holder, with the Director of Public Health and the Premier and Minister for Health, the Premier failed to comprehend the impact of COVID-19 reinfection and the reality of long COVID. Professor Nancy Baxter made a comment today that long COVID will be an enduring major public health complication that we failed to address in a timely and aggressive manner. She said we need to invest in combating it. That is obvious but it is good to hear these strong words from independent epidemiologists and public health officials.
It is also good to understand that we have some tools at hand to help hard-working nurses and ambulance staff, people who are working in front-facing services everywhere. That is, at minimum, mandating mask-wearing in those places the Premier, the Minister for Health, has removed, requiring ventilation systems to be in place and that people entering those spaces wear masks. Without that, we have a situation destined to continue to unfold. We have too-low vaccination rates and we are continuing in an unprotected way.
We have industrial action that is entirely understandable and it will not stop until the Premier realises he has to address the underlying failed safe workplace conditions that nursing staff and other health professionals have to turn up to every single day. He recognises the intolerable mental health burden on highly trained paramedics who are sitting ramped for hours or overnight, unable to attend people who are desperate and urgent. It requires financial resources and it requires a change of attitude about our COVID 19 response so that we have a collective approach again. We wear masks, we ventilate and we look after other people.