No quick fix to WA health worker shortage

·2-min read

Western Australia is still grappling with a shortage of healthcare workers but removing COVID-19 vaccination requirements would have minimal impact, an inquiry has heard.

Health workers and those in aged and disability care remain subject to vaccine mandates in WA after the state government removed the requirement for other workers earlier this month.

In his advice to the government, Chief Health Officer Andy Robertson said the mandates should remain for those cohorts because they were more likely to have frequent contact with vulnerable people.

Health department officials on Tuesday told a parliamentary budget estimates hearing that midwives, theatre nurses and junior doctors were in particularly short supply, with the biggest need in rural and regional areas.

But senior government minister Sue Ellery said the number of healthcare workers who had refused to get vaccinated and could potentially be lured back was negligible.

"There's just not enough of them for it to have any material impact," Ms Ellery said.

"It's certainly not the case that the problem would be fixed overnight if they all came back."

More than 33,200 people were waiting for elective surgery as of May this year, including a combined 8277 category one and two cases.

But the statewide median waiting time had not grown significantly despite surgeries being frozen at various points during high COVID-19 caseload periods. For category one patients, the wait time increased from 12 days to 13 in the year to May.

The inquiry was told COVID-related staff furloughing was having a greater impact on surgery delays than lack of staff, while patients testing positive to the virus was also having an impact.

Health Minister Amber-Jade Sanderson on Tuesday said furloughing was also the reason why health workers were being forced to work overtime and extra shifts.

She told parliament there had been a net increase in the nursing workforce over the past two years, despite the state having had closed borders for much of that period.

"We are attracting and retaining people," she said.

"This is a global race ... everywhere is trying to recruit healthcare workers."

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