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Nurses sound the alarm on ICU “surge” in NSW hospitals

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The nurse’s union warns that using the NSW’s 2000-bed intensive care “surge capacity” unit will come at the cost of COVID-19 care and staff-patient ratios.

116 patients in the NSW are currently in intensive care making the state’s existing intensive care beds already at 80 percent capacity. This percentage includes both COVID and non-COVID cases.

A total of 698 COVID-19 patients are hospitalized in NSW.

Two Western Sydney hospitals have also declared a “code yellow” – Westmead and Blacktown- as patients numbers continue to climb in recent days.

In a statement last Thursday, Western Sydney Local Health District has said that it was currently taking care of 1500 COVID-19 cases in the community. 15 are in Blacktown and 121 are in Westmead Hospital.

Some patients have already been transferred to other hospitals to lighten the load.

A makeshift “short stay unit” has been opened at Westmead’s emergency department to help ease the “ramping” delays in offloading patients from ambulances.

The NSW government has reiterated that it can cope with increasing numbers and says that it is currently managing 500 intensive care unit beds across NSW hospitals with a 2000 surge capacity.

There are 2000 ventilators available, one designated for each bed.

Brett Holmes,  NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association secretary, has said that the system likely could not maintain 2000 intensive care beds without diluting nursing care or resources.

“Their probable intention to staff them is by using a different ratio of staff to patients than would currently be standard,” Mr Holmes told AAP.

“(They’d be) using less experienced staff at the bedside and then having a supervisor, an experienced intensive care nurse, to oversee the work of four others.

“We already had a shortage of intensive care nurses before this outbreak, people were doing lots of overtime, there weren’t the ratios we believe are appropriate.”

Holmes also said that while NSW Health’s surge capacity will see the transformation of general wards, recovery rooms and operating theatres into intensive care wards, these may not have negative room pressure.

Doing so would increase the leaks of COVID-19 infection to hospital staff. 1200 NSW healthcare staff are already in isolation due to COVID-19 exposure.

Omar Khorshid, president of the Australian Medical Association, said last Thursday that Australia’s hospitals are “usually full all the time” and that ceasing all elective surgeries might help offload patients and free up ICU beds.

Khorsid also added that resourcing these restrictions will continue to get harder as numbers climb which means that NSW will still need to subdue the spread of the infection.

“We don’t have staff just on tap,” Dr Khorshid said.

“At the end of the day, you’re going to reach a point where your already-trained staff are no longer available, and you have to go then to the next level. People who don’t normally do those sorts of jobs, (you) have to retrain them.

“At the end of the day, you don’t want an orthopaedic surgeon like me running an ICU bed, that’s not ideal, but it’s something you do in a crisis.”

 

Story Source: With news from AAP.

 

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