Doctor describes ‘very dire’ situation with non-ICU trained nurses working in ICU wards, patients not being fed or showered
The interval for a booster shot will be reduced to three months in Victoria, New South Wales, South Australia and the ACT amid unprecedented strain on hospitals as Omicron cases surge.
The Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, announced on Wednesday morning the move would take effect on Wednesday while NSW premier, Dominic Perrottet, said the change would be implemented from Friday in that state.
The interval reduction in South Australia and the ACT came into effect immediately.
Perrottet said he had “seen very clearly” through ICU numbers that vaccination was key to reducing symptoms and fatalities.
“I encourage everybody across our state today, who’s eligible now … to make that booking at one of our centres across the state,” he said.
“It is very key to ensuring you stay safe during this pandemic.”
The booster shots will be available from New South Wales’s 40 vaccine centres in a bid to speed up the rollout and fill vacant appointment slots.
The change was slated for the end of the month by the commonwealth government but brought forward given the vaccine supplies available.
Earlier this week, the NSW Health deputy secretary, Susan Pearce, said tens of thousands of vaccine booster appointments were going unfilled at state clinics each week.
Speaking on Wednesday, she said she was relieved more people would be able to get those appointments.
“Last year during the Delta outbreak, we watched them like hawks every day and we got used to seeing a very high number of vaccines being given in this state every day,” she said.
“I’d really love to see that happen again now as we work our way through this latest challenge.”
Andrews said the move would expand eligibility for the booster to two million more Victorians.
“It’s safe. It’s effective … and it will help us get more people third-dose boosted quicker than would otherwise be the case.”
Andrews said the number of industries with third dose vaccine mandates in place was likely to grow as eligibility expanded, while the definition of “fully vaccinated” would be changed to three vaccination doses in the weeks to come.
NSW recorded 32 deaths and 32,297 Covid cases on Wednesday while Victoria had 18 Covid deaths and 20,769 cases.
There are 2,863 positive cases in hospital, including 217 people in intensive care and 66 on ventilators in NSW.
The rise in cases has led to staffing shortages across the healthcare sector, with dozens of intensive care nurses protesting at Westmead hospital on Wednesday morning.
The hospital is one of the state’s biggest, and has been one of the priority destinations for Covid patients throughout the pandemic.
“Nurses and midwives gathered today and they were really angry, with a real shared frustration because they are seeing something completely different than what the government is saying,” said NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association (NSWNWA) acting general secretary, Shaye Candish, said.
“Our members are working in unsustainable conditions due to the excessive overtime, unreasonable workloads and are regularly working understaffed.
“It’s causing people to cry at work. People are just at their wit’s end.”
That sentiment is echoed by a senior doctor at another Sydney hospital who told Guardian Australia that one nurse broke down in tears during a video conference saying they were being told to take on more and more patients with “just no end in sight”.
“Staff are literally falling apart,” this doctor said.
“They are becoming walking zombies.”
The hospital has given up trying to isolate Covid patients in specialised wards because they have insufficient staff and facilities.
“Every day it gets worse,” the doctor said, with staff being asked to provide care beyond their skill sets. Non-ICU trained nurses, for instance, are working ICU wards, with workers relying on qualified staff to supervise those who aren’t.
“Patients are not being fed, patients are not being showered, and people who are falling are not being attended to,” the doctor said. “It’s very dire.”
The NSW health minister, Brad Hazzard, said he had been talking with NSWNWA representatives and would work to bring more staff onboard to ease the pressure.
“I have been listening to their concerns and we are certainly considering some of the operational challenges they have inside, and certainly they have been compounded by the pandemic,” he said on Wednesday.
“We’re doing everything we can.”