Nurses plead for caution as NSW reopens

·2-min read

Exhausted healthcare staff in NSW are urging the community to remain cautious and responsible to help limit the inevitable rise in COVID-19 infections once lockdown lifts.

The NSW Nurses and Midwives' Association says its members are anxious that a spike in COVID-19 hospitalisations could overwhelm the health system and its already-stretched nursing workforce.

On Monday a swathe of restrictions will lift for fully vaccinated people across the state.

Ten adult visitors will be allowed in homes, 30 people will be permitted to gather outdoors and 100 guests can congregate at at weddings and funerals.

Indoor swimming pools will be able to open and all school students will be back in the classroom by October 25.

Shops and hospitality venues can reopen and the five-kilometre from home travel limit will be scrapped.

However, people in Greater Sydney will not be able to travel to the regions until 80 per cent double-dose vaccination is reached.

"As the community looks forward to reintroducing some normality into their lives from next week, nurses and midwives don't get to share in that luxury," nurses' union secretary Brett Holmes said on Friday.

"They've had very little reprieve since the pandemic hit our shores some 22 months ago and it's far from over."

Even before the pandemic began, many public hospitals relied on nurses and midwives' goodwill to accept regular overtime requests to keep services open amid staffing shortfalls, Mr Holmes said.

The union is particularly concerned about hospitals in the state's north, where there are workforce shortages are acute and vaccine rates lag.

"Our members at Lismore, Tweed, Grafton and the surrounding regions are all anxious about what lies ahead, given they have a very limited casual or agency pool to draw from," he said.

"Text messages are being sent to nurses daily, begging them to start early or work double shifts, to address the shortfall.

"This is not sustainable, especially when nurses and midwives can access safer workloads, as well as better pay and conditions, over the border in Queensland."

Mr Holmes said the situation was evidence of the need for nurse-to-patient ratios and the recruitment of more staff.

But a spokesperson for NSW Health said the state's health system is prepared for any surge, with former health care workers and students trained and ready to lend a hand if necessarily.

Healthcare staff in the private system are also on stand-by.

"The NSW health system is the biggest in the nation... (and) there are more nurses and midwives in NSW public hospitals than at any other time in history," the spokesperson said.

"Since the start of the pandemic, NSW Health has engaged in forward planning with clinicians to ensure our hospitals have capacity to care for COVID-19 patients who need to be hospitalised."

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