The Tasmanian Health Service is strained and staff are are at breaking point. It’s a line we have heard too many times before. But in the context of a pandemic, it’s something that requires urgent attention.
Late Wednesday it was revealed that the opening hours at the Mersey Community Hospital emergency department would be further cut back. From Monday, North-West patients requiring emergency care after 6pm and before 8am, will now be redirected to the North West Regional Hospital or Launceston General Hospital.
Why? Because of the THS’s inability to source appropriate locum coverage. Health Minister Sarah Courtney says this is result of quarantine and travel restrictions brought on by COVID-19. Clearly, Tasmania’s longstanding reliance on fly-in, fly-out staff has come undone. So where does it leave us?
Like many things, over the past few months COVID has brought to light some of our greatest strengths. On the health front, the efforts of staff to quickly adjust, particularly in response to the North-West outbreak, were commendable. But this pandemic has also highlighted some of our biggest weaknesses. This includes a significant dependency on interstate specialists and locums within the health sector.
The Mersey decision has been welcomed by the likes of the Australian Medical Association, who warned hospitals risked losing doctors altogether from burnout. But there’s no denying the flow on effects will be felt at the LGH. As it stands, the Royal Hobart Hospital is already taking on additional surgeries on the back of cancellations in Victoria. The latest redirection will also no doubt hurt already stretched Ambulance Tasmania services.
We are also preparing for the worse. If Victoria’s second wave has taught us anything it’s that a health system can never be too prepared.
The government has made a commitment to expand permanent staffing levels within out EDs, but this won’t happen overnight. The promise to recruit more health professionals to the state was also made long before COVID-19 entered the picture. It’s time for action.
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