The NSW Paramedics Union is urging leaders to call a state of emergency to free-up funds for more staffing and resources.
Health professionals on the COVID-19 frontline are struggling to cope with high volumes of emergency calls, limited PPE resources, and patients not disclosing their COVID-19 status over the phone.
In an effort to make state funding available for more resources including staffing and equipment, acting president of the NSW Paramedics Union, Liu Bianchi, says it is imperative state leaders act now.
“There has been an incredible surge in volumes of calls … Last Friday we were looking at volumes of triple-0 calls that were comparable to New Year’s Eve,” she explained.
“We had to utilise managers who were called out from their homes. Some of them did after doing maybe a 14 hour day shift, and they ended up doing another 4 to 6 hours on top of that.”
“Declaring a state of emergency will create more availability of funds and resources so our managers can do their job of managing and supervising,” she said.
She went on to explain that personal protective equipment (PPE) was running drastically low, and the state’s urgent action would increase access to such equipment.
“The call from the ambulance service is that we just don’t have enough PPE to go around,” she said, adding that there isn’t enough to fill most vehicles, which presents a problem when patients don’t disclose their COVID-19 status when phoning for an ambulance.
“I’ve been fielding calls where people have gone to members of the public who have been COVID-19 positive, have called the ambulance, have not told the call taker that they are meant to be socially isolating, and when the crew arrive, they don’t have PPE in the vehicle to protect themselves, so have been exposed to the virus.”
She said in most vehicles, there has only been enough PPE for “two gowns” in case patients have coronavirus symptoms.
On Wednesday night, Prime Minister Scott Morrison released a statement announcing that coronavirus testing would be made available to all health professionals, as well as aged care workers and others in “high risk” settings.
National Cabinet also endorsed the recommendation for states and territories to suspend all non-urgent elective surgery, with the deadline for suspension 11.59pm on 1 April 2020.
“The changes will allow greater transition for the community to the new arrangements and ensure the national supply of essential PPE – such as masks, gowns, gloves and goggles for the healthcare workforce,” the statement read.
Declaring a state of emergency in NSW would mean NSW chief health officer Dr Kerry Chant would be given wide-ranging powers to manage the health and emergency sector.
Victoria and Queensland have led the charge in making the move, both announcing the measures earlier this month.
In Victoria, the declaration came into effect at 12:00pm on Monday March 16, giving chief health officer Brett Sutton the ability to direct health officials to detain people, search premises without a warrant and force people or areas into lockdown if it is considered necessary to protect public health.
Ms Bianchi’s plea today comes after news.com.au reported eighty Catholic hospitals which provide 10 per cent of the nation’s public hospital beds are running out of face masks, gloves, gowns and other protective gear, as COVID-19 stretches the system.
Catholic Health Australia is calling on the Morrison Government to urgently release stockpiles of personal protective equipment (PPE) to its hospital staff — some of which have less than a week’s supply — as stocks in its network reach critically low levels.
The Catholic network employs tens of thousands of nurses and clinical staff.
“Requests by Catholic hospitals to access stocks of gowns, masks and gloves have been met with confusion, buck passing between the states and the Commonwealth and even a diktat that supplies will be released only to publicly owned hospitals,” Catholic Health Australia CEO Pat Garcia said.
Almost one in 10 public hospital beds are located in Catholic hospitals but because they are not directly owned by the state they are being denied access to the stockpiles, he said.
In some cases personal protective equipment stocks in Catholic hospitals would run out in as little as a week, prompting Mr Garcia to write to state, territory and federal health ministers warning of the imminent shortfall.
“We cannot have a situation where thousands of doctors and nurses are treating people unprotected – it’s a shocking situation for patients, staff and the wider community. We need every weapon in our arsenal to fight the coronavirus and masks, gowns and gloves are the very basics. It would be like sending in our fireys to fight fires without a truck.”
Mr Garcia said Catholic hospitals were running testing clinics, treating COVID-19 patients and ramping up the capacity in their wards and emergency departments to alleviate pressure on public hospitals.
“We are working with everyone in the wider health network to fight this virus. All we are asking for is the same access as the public network and for a clear and efficient way for our people to get hold of PPE (personal protective equipment) supplies in a timely fashion.”
Chief Executive of the St John of God group Dr Shane Kelly which runs 17 hospitals in Western Australia, Victoria and NSW, said time is running out.
“As of today if I can’t get hold of some more PPE stocks, some of my hospitals will run out in a week,” he said on Monday.
“In order to protect nurses, doctors and other health care workers, and to help to reduce infections, we need sufficient stocks of gloves, gowns and masks to continue to operate, and we are just not getting the right information on how we can access the stockpile.
“We have been endeavouring to do everything we can to manage stocks but we cannot and will not compromise the safety of our staff and ultimately our patients,” he said.
Australia now has more than 2700 coronavirus cases.
Total confirmed cases, based on a tally of numbers provided by each state and territory, stand at 2737.
As of Thursday morning there were 1219 in NSW, 520 in Victoria, 493 in Queensland, 197 in South Australia, 205 in Western Australia, 42 in Tasmania, 53 in the Australian Capital Territory and eight in the Northern Territory.
Twelve people have died — one in Queensland, one in Western Australia, seven in NSW and three in Victoria.
In NSW, there are currently 16 COVID-19 cases in Intensive Care Units and of those cases 10 require ventilators at this stage.