Sydney hospitals stretched to ‘the brink’ as Covid crisis sidelines medical staff
Sydney’s hospitals are being stretched to “the brink” as healthcare professionals continue to be sidelined by exposure to Covid, with two major hospitals reporting cases, including a fully vaccinated nurse.
NSW Health confirmed the nurse, who tested positive on Tuesday, works at Westmead hospital and the source of the infection was being urgently investigated.
At Liverpool hospital, in Sydney’s south-west, a pregnant patient was diagnosed with Covid on Wednesday after undergoing a procedure.
The hospital cancelled elective surgery to deep clean the operating theatre and contact tracing is under way, with close contacts – including staff – being tested and isolating for 14 days.
Guardian Australia has also learned of surgeons and nurses at Royal Prince Alfred hospital, in Sydney’s inner west, who are isolating after being deemed close contacts of cases at the hospital or in the community.
Surgeries have been delayed as a result. Sydney Local Health District was contacted for comment.
Guardian Australia understands that while there are a number of RPA staff in isolation and some services may have been affected, RPA is not under the same staffing pressures as hospitals in the west and south-west of the city.
South-west Sydney continues to be the focus of Sydney’s outbreak and its local healthcare district is under increasing pressure.
Some staff at Fairfield hospital, a smaller facility within the same local health district, are understood to still be in isolation as a result of an unvaccinated student nurse who tested positive earlier this month. About 120 of 1,000 workers at the hospital and 600 at Royal North Shore hospital were forced into isolation due to contact with the student nurse.
The NSW Nurses and Midwives Association has said it was unclear how many nurses across Sydney were currently isolating.
The greatest pressure was being felt in south-west Sydney where multiple facilities were affected – meaning there was less staff to redirect where needed.
“There is no give in the system, it’s already pushed at the point where nurses are doing overtime fairly regularly,” a source familiar with the situation said. “Is it going OK for now? Yes. But is it also on the brink? Yes.”
At the New South Wales Covid press conference on Thursday, the health minister, Brad Hazzard, said part of the challenge of staffing hospitals – and one of the reasons for strict limits on visitors – was the “massive numbers” working at vaccination hubs too.
“Everybody in the hospital system, everybody in the health system is under pressure,” Hazzard said.
Guardian Australia has repeatedly contacted South Western Sydney Local Health District in recent days, however, a spokesperson said they were unable to respond to concerns about hospital preparedness.
On Thursday, there were 73 Covid patients in hospitals across Sydney, 19 of who are in intensive care, and within that cohort, five are on ventilators.
Of the 19 people in intensive care, one is in their 20s, one is in their 30s, two are in their 40s, five are in their 50s, six are in their 60s, three are in their 70s and one is in their 80s.
There have been 929 locally acquired cases so far reported as part of Sydney’s outbreak.