Sunday, 9 January 2022

COVID-19 State of Play Northern NSW 2022: what a difference three months make


Excerpt from a Statement from Lynne Weir, Acting Chief Executive Northern NSW Local Health District, 23 September 2021:

In our District, there are currently sufficient Intensive Care beds across our three major hospitals in Grafton, Lismore and Tweed, with plans in place to surge staffing and intensive care capacity, if and when required, our networked hospital system ensures patients can be transferred or redirected to other hospitals where necessary, including private hospitals.

Throughout the early stages of the pandemic, we sourced additional equipment, including ventilators, and we regularly review our stocks and supply chains of resources, including PPE and pharmacy items, to ensure adequate supplies.

From the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Northern NSW Local Health District has been actively increasing its staffing and upskilling its workforce in readiness to care for COVID-19 patients in our region.

Additional training programs were developed for nurses, midwives, and allied health staff, with more than 265 staff attending surge training in Intensive Care, Emergency and Immunisation specialties to provide additional capacity to care for patients.

Lismore Base Hospital is the primary receiving hospital for COVID-19 cases requiring hospitalisation in the District, having recently undergone significant redevelopment to provide a new Emergency Department and Intensive Care Unit, as well as other general hospital wards. These refurbishments have also delivered more single room capacity across the facility. Our other major hospitals in the District also have trained staff and the necessary equipment to cater for COVID patients if required as the pandemic evolves.

Between mid-2012 and mid-2021, NNSWLHD increased its workforce by an additional 1,219 FTE staff - an increase of 32.3 per cent including 211 more doctors 461 more nurses and midwives and 141 more allied health staff.

Message received by a registered nurse in NSW on 13 December 2021:

via @vintage_nurse

Northern NSW Local Health District, media release excerpt, 16 October 2021:

Visiting restrictions at hospitals across Northern NSW Local Health District are being eased slightly to allow visitors back into health facilities in a staged approach.

A patient may have one visitor once a day for one hour, between the hours of 1pm and 6pm.

Visitors must be at least 12 years of age, and must have be fully vaccinated with two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Visitors will need to carry evidence of their vaccination status on entry to the health facility, and must wear a surgical mask while on site.

Acting Chief Executive, Northern NSW Local Health District, Lynne Weir said people should continue to keep up to date with contact tracing alerts, and be vigilant against any symptoms of COVID-19 so they do not attend a health facility if they feel unwell.

People must not visit if they have any COVID-19 symptoms, are a close contact of a confirmed case (or are within their isolation period), live in a household with a person who is currently isolating, or if they are waiting for a COVID-19 test result,” Ms Weir said.

People also must not visit if they have been to case locations in NSW, interstate affected areas or New Zealand in the past 14 days.”


The Guardian, 7 January 2022:

One of New South Wales’ major regional hospitals had to source its own triage tent, is sending Covid tests six hours away due to a lack of space for its own diagnosis machine, and has had positive patients wait 30 hours to be transferred to a designated hospital for those with the virus.

Doctors at the Tweed hospital, which is 1km from the Queensland border in northern NSW and serves a hinterland that includes Byron Bay, are even donning personal protective equipment to drive home, in their own cars, asymptomatic Covid-positive patients because taxis won’t take them.

Kristin Ryan-Agnew, president of the local branch of the Nurses and Midwives Association and a senior nurse at the hospital, said local Covid cases were tripling daily, much faster than the 5o% growth in new cases reported for NSW as a whole on Wednesday.

As a result of increased presentations to Tweed’s emergency department, nurses were doing “double shifts every day” with one day off before resuming the toil. “They’re going to fall over in a screaming heap,” she said. “They will not be able to manage.”

Eighteen staff, many of them senior, have resigned since December out of a roster of about 150, citing burnout and the better conditions offered over the border.

Queensland offers $1,800 a year for nurses’ education, a Covid bonus – both absent in NSW – and higher wages, Ryan-Agnew said.

“They were really top-notch, really good quality staff, and they can walk up to the Gold Coast and they’ll just completely snaffle them.”

As Guardian Australia reported on Wednesday, nurses at Lismore Base hospital – the destination for Tweed’s Covid patients needing treatment – are also struggling to cope with a surge in medical needs.

The Tweed hospital is buckling under spiking demand for care and a lack of trained staff and appropriate equipment. A senior manager, for instance, had to phone around themselves and then purchase the triage tent prior to Christmas after months of pleading to the health department, Ryan-Agnew said.

The tent, though, remains far from adequate, with no toilet, forcing potentially Covid-positive patients – and anyone waiting for PCR testing to cross the border – to traipse through the main hospital lobby.

You can have people with heart conditions, sick kids, elderly, frail, all sitting there waiting to be seen, and you’ve got a potential Covid patient walking through the waiting room,” Ryan-Agnew said.

Patients with chest and severe abdominal pain, septic children and adults should be in beds not a tent without nursing care, staff said. Earlier this week, one Covid patient had to wait 17 hours before being transferred to Lismore, while another patient had to wait 30 hours before being moved on Wednesday.

The nurse manager shares office space and air-conditioning with two beds set aside for Covid patients with no air-locked space for changing PPE.

We have bottles of hand sanitiser sitting on top of overflowing bins, flapping Covid tent flaps compromising PPE,” another staff member, who requested anonymity, said.

We also continue to struggle getting adequate PPE and supplies, certain masks run out, no hair coverings and no disposable blood pressure cuffs.”

The triage tent sourced by a senior manager at Tweed hospital.
Photograph: Supplied

Read the full story here.

The Guardian, 8 January 2022:

Staff at the hospital serving tourist mecca Byron Bay in northern New South Wales say the facility is under “extreme strain”, with Covid-positive patients left in bays behind curtains and one patient waiting 45 hours to be transported to the region’s designated Covid hospital.

As many as 100 people a day are arriving at the Byron Central hospital, stretching staff already depleted by Covid-forced absences. The Byron area had a double-vaccination rate of about 85% as of 20 December, one of the lowest in NSW.

Healthcare workers collecting information from the public at a Covid testing site in Sydney

The hospital’s single isolation room was taken up by one Covid patient for almost two days earlier this week before being transported. “We are constantly being crippled by a lack of transfer options” with ambulances often unavailable because of their own shortages, a senior staffer who requested anonymity said.

We have a positive pressure room also that is being used as an isolation room and another room which we can close an actual door on,” the hospital worker said. “These are often all taken up, so we have Covid-positive patients in bays behind curtains because we can’t get people to where they need to be in a timely manner.”

As reported this week by Guardian Australia, northern NSW hospitals are under increasing strain at the designated Covid hospital at Lismore and at the bigger Tweed hospital near the border with Queensland.

Byron’s challenges are made worse by the loss of medical staff who have refused the government’s Covid vaccination mandate, and its proximity to communities with relatively large anti-vaccination support.

The region also has a relatively high number of cases per 1,000 people, with another 1,154 Covid cases in northern NSW in the latest 24-hour reporting period.

Northern NSW Local Health District website:

Hospital Visitors: Changes and Restrictions

Visitor restrictions are in place to protect patients, staff and visitors at our hospitals and health facilities.

Visitors are now restricted at all hospitals and health facilities in Northern NSW.

Exemptions will be considered on a case by case basis for compassionate or extenuating circumstances, for example in the case of palliative care.

Women accessing birthing services can continue to nominate one support person (participant in care) during her labour, birth and post-birth.

For outpatient appointments and community services, telehealth appointments are being utilised where possible.

All patients and visitors are required to wear a mask when entering a health facility.

As a precautionary measure ALL visitors will be screened on entry and will be required to check in using the QR code and provide evidence of their COVID-19 vaccination.

You will also be asked:

Do you have any COVID-19 symptoms?

Have you been identified as a close contact of a COVID-19 case in the past 14 days?

Have you returned from overseas in the past 14 days?

If you answer yes to any of these questions, you will not be permitted to enter the facility.