You are here

Hospitals Preparedness for COVID-19

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Tuesday, 12 October 2021

Tags: COVID-19, Hospitals

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Mr Speaker, I listened carefully to the Health minister's response. It is true that more nursing staff are being employed and that a lot of strong work has been put into the COVID-19 isolation and quarantining responses. The contact tracing work in Tasmania is excellent. The context for this is that we have to look at the bigger picture when we are talking about opening up Tasmania. The bigger picture is not the work that has been done in the last 18 months in response to COVID-19 but our underlying health system. That is really concerning doctors, nurses and many patients who are experiencing the difficulty, even impossibility in getting into a hospital in Tasmania.

I did a media release about the Government's health statistics and the member for Bass, Ms Finlay, quoted from our media release in her question this morning. The Health department has just recorded the worst record for the number of emergency department patients who are seen on time in August. Only 29 per cent of emergency department patients at the Royal Hobart Hospital were seen on time. Only 36 per cent of patients who had an imminently life-threatening condition were seen in the national benchmark time. The national benchmark is 80 per cent. For people with a potentially life-threatening condition, only 19 per cent of patients were seen on time compared to the national benchmark of 75 per cent.

These are the Government's own figures for August. This is a truly scary situation. We have Category 4 alerts, Code Red, the type of alerts we were getting from time to time before the 2018 election and were the front-page Mercury headlines for the whole of 2016 and 2017.

The occurrences where we had Code Red alerts or Category 4 alerts were unusual and notable back in those years. They are now a regular occurrence. They are so regular they do not make the Mercury newspaper because news is about things that change. The situation in the emergency department in the Royal Hobart Hospital and in the Launceston General Hospital (LGH) is dire today.

The staff are under immense stress. I have no doubt the Health minister is working on the COVID-19 plans and the health system. The problem is we have had seven years of serial and chronic underspending in the health system. It has only been because the global pandemic has forced the Government to make reckoning with the reality of underspending in the public health system. It means you have zero capacity when a global pandemic hits. The Nurses and Midwives Federation has lodged an urgent application with the Industrial Commission because of the ongoing staffing and workload crisis at the Launceston General Hospital. The persistent and ongoing issues are for emergency department nurses and midwives.

They detail dire shifts in the Emergency Department for staff, with up to 21 patients waiting for a bed in the Launceston General Hospital, 60 patients being treated in the department and patients being ramped outside recess bays and cubicles. Just imagine if a likely or known Delta case turns up in the Launceston General Hospital emergency department. Where is the negative pressure room? How do you separate the emergency department staff who are dealing with the COVID-19 case and everybody else?

It is very important to talk about the number of ICU beds and ventilators we have in the state; however, I remain concerned that we have an insufficient number to deal with paediatric ICU cases. We do not have enough ICUs in the north-west and the north. We do not have a demonstrated ability to separate hot wards for COVID-19 and non COVID-19 wards for people in the north west and north. Every person working in the Tasmanian Health service is doing their best to solve this situation.

The Government crows about the state of the Budget. There was $300 million remaining in a slush fund in this Budget. Where is it going into health now? This is what we need today. We need the nursing recruitment and retention right now that we have been asking for as have the nurses and the midwives. They have been asking that and we have been supporting that for seven years. This is what we need.