'We are just pawns': Nurses reveal horror abuse

Publish Date
Sun, 16 Jan 2022, 10:38am

'We are just pawns': Nurses reveal horror abuse

Publish Date
Sun, 16 Jan 2022, 10:38am

Aussie healthcare workers have exposed the horrific working conditions inside our hospitals, despite politicians insisting the system can cope with the latest Covid-19 outbreak. 

No time for meal or drink breaks, abuse from patients, dwindling staff numbers and severe burnout is the current reality facing many of Australia's frontline workers. 

Covid-19 cases have exploded across the country in recent weeks, with previous daily infection records being consistently smashed across multiple states and territories. 

NSW, Victoria, Queensland, the ACT, Tasmania and South Australia are all battling unprecedented outbreaks. 

Hospitalisations and ICU numbers are rising rapidly, yet politicians have been assuring the public that Australia's healthcare system is coping. 

Unfortunately, what is really happening in our hospitals is a lot more concerning. 

Elke is a registered nurse who has been working at a hospital in rural Victoria for almost three years. 

She told news.com.au of the difficult conditions she and her colleagues have had to endure, particularly as a result of the added pressure from this most recent outbreak. 

"We have not been able to take any annual leave in the last 12 months in particular as we are constantly short-staffed, we are always dehydrated, required to wear N95s. There is no time for drink breaks and we often go [through] eight to 10-hour shifts without a meal break," Elke said. 

"Everyone is burnt out, exhausted, dehydrated and, as a consequence, is getting sick. We work so hard to look after others but we aren't looking after ourselves. 

"We work frequent overtime as we feel for our colleagues that are left understaffed and under-supported. The healthcare system can't keep this up. Everyone needs a holiday and we aren't getting one anytime soon." 

Elke said she and her colleagues worry about getting Covid-19 every shift, noting they would be required to use their own annual or sick leave if they contracted the virus. 

"We wear full PPE but many patients refuse to care about anyone else other than themselves, they request treatment but remain unvaxxed, spit on us, refuse to wear a mask, shout abuse," she said. "We don't deserve this." 

Elke said the shortage of rapid antigen tests meant there were more patients coming in and clogging up the waiting room because they require swabs or answers that the Government has failed to provide. 

She noted that the relentless workload has resulted in many of her colleagues quitting, particularly senior level staff. 

Elke said she absolutely loved her job prior to the pandemic, but now she dreads going in to work each day. 

"I have a huge HECS debt, and five years of study including a double degree in nursing/paramedicine and a postgraduate degree in emergency nursing," she said. 

"I can't justify throwing all of this away for a job I once loved and now dread with every inch of my body." 

Nurses have spoken about the abuse they have been suffering by unvaccinated people. Photo / Getty Images 

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Scott Morrison insisted the country's hospitals could cope with the Omicron outbreak, saying rising case numbers were part of the "new phase of the pandemic". 

"That doesn't mean to say it can't put pressure on the hospital system. It can. And that's why we're working very closely with the premiers and chief ministers to make sure those resources are there," he told Sunrise. 

Similarly, NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet has previously insisted the health system is "standing strong", last week reassuring the public that hospitals were under pressure but not at risk of collapsing. 

"Even in a worst-case scenario (based on new modelling) we have the capacity within our health system right now,' Mr Perrottet said. 

"We have invested significantly … We have the best health system in the country if not around the world." 

Vanessa Hartas, who has worked as a healthcare worker in both NSW and Queensland throughout the pandemic, said these types of comments from politicians didn't reflect the current reality. 

The 30-year-old has been working in healthcare for six years and now works as a national podiatry community and disability manager in Queensland, servicing both aged care and the disability sector. 

She told news.com.au that it was infuriating to listen to politicians saying the healthcare system is coping when she and so many others were struggling every single day. 

"As a healthcare worker, it's hard to listen to our politicians paint a daily picture that, 'The healthcare system has got this, we can cope, everything is fine, we don't need to be worried,'" she said. 

"On the ground that picture is certainly not true. It's a dangerous time. We rely on our health system and currently our health system is not as reliable as it would like to be. 

"There are parts of healthcare system that are busting at the seams and we are all groaning under that burden." 

Ms Hartas said the past two years have felt like whiplash, adding the latest Covid-19 wave is particularly difficult due to staff shortages and the level of fatigue among those who are left. 

"We are feeling the great resignation in healthcare already. One of the biggest contributing factors I feel is the increasing responsibility, gruelling work conditions and fatigue," she said. 

Vanessa Hartas has worked in healthcare in both NSW and Queensland throughout the pandemic. Photo / Vanessa Hartas/Supplied 

"Try wearing plastic PPE head to toe, day in and day out, with 70 per cent humidity in Queensland. You begin to sweat instantly. The plastic PPE sticks to you in the most uncomfortable way. You struggle to breathe with your mask on. And that breathing makes your face mask fog up so it's hard to see." 

She said while she loves her team and patients, "I think every frontline healthcare worker has questioned the cost their job has had on their mental health at some point in the last two years." 

In NSW, a nurse working at a hospital on the state's mid north coast has painted a very different picture to claims from Mr Perrottet that the system is "standing strong". 

The 36-year-old, who did not wish to be named, works in a mental health ward and explained she recently suffered from severe burnout due to the increased workload. 

"I had severe burnout and had to go to emergency department and seek help through mental health. 

"The psychiatrist made me take leave, about three weeks in total. While on this leave my work was requesting I fill shifts when I returned and [I was] asked to work 93 hours across eight straight days. 

"I love my job but it was killing me and if I didn't get the support that I have received in the last three weeks I would have quit." 

She told news.com.au that she and other staff are often expected to work 16 to 18-hour double shifts, noting one colleague had to do a 24-hour shift due to the lack of staff. 

The nurse said poor communication from management regarding Covid-19 safety guidelines and PPE has put her and her colleagues at risk multiple times. 

When asked if the Government was doing enough to support healthcare workers, she said: "No. We were the heroes of 2020 and now we are just pawns until they break us all into leaving." 

- by Ally Foster, news.com.au