Hundreds of healthcare workers have been forced into isolation after being considered close contacts of an unvaccinated nursing student who worked at two Sydney hospitals while infected with Covid-19, wreaking havoc on staffing levels.
As hospitals in the greater Sydney area were put on “red alert” due to the latest Covid outbreak, restrictions on visitors raised alarm among pregnant women.
Guardian Australia understands that more than 600 healthcare professionals in two hospitals have been considered close contacts.
More than 500 Royal North Shore Hospital employees, and more than 120 Fairfield Hospital employees, are now isolated and unable to work after being identified as a close contact for the 24-year-old nursing student who worked from 24 to 28 June across the country. both hospitals while infectious.
Nurses, administrative staff, and other health workers are among the isolated workers.
The situation is so dire at the Royal North Shore Hospital, where five wards are affected, that health authorities are believed to be trying to transfer nursing staff from nearby hospitals to help fill the deficit in services.
The number of isolated close contacts related to the nursing student has risen since Wednesday, when about 100 initial staff members and patients were sent to isolation after a positive result was returned Tuesday night.
Brett Holmes, secretary general of the New South Wales Nurses and Midwives Association, said the isolation orders have put “a great burden” on an “already strained” workforce.
“Removing 500 employees from Royal North Shore has a massive impact on our members’ workloads,” the union boss said.
“Our health system was already in an extraordinarily high activity, and there was a minimum of staff available because the temporary staff that could have completed the absences is being absorbed in the vaccination and testing centers.
“Clearly, the hospital has done the tricky thing and stopped all but emergency surgeries, and diverted patients to other facilities when possible, but the nurses were already overloaded and have experienced shortages in their work for some time. normal work.
“The necessary steps that have been taken [isolation orders] certainly put a heavy burden on the staff, ”Holmes said.
In a statement, NSW Health confirmed that there is “restricted movement in five rooms” at Royal North Shore: renal vascular, neurology, cardiology, a general medicine room and a surgery room.
“These rooms do not accept new patients and are closed to visitors. All personnel working in these rooms wear an improved level of personal protective equipment, ”the statement said.
For red alert hospitals, visitors are only allowed by exception and must meet certain conditions, including seeking medical treatment, obtaining medical supplies, fulfilling caregiver responsibilities, end-of-life visits, and attending an appointment to receive the Covid-19 vaccine.
The new rules have created confusion about whether women giving birth can be accompanied by a support person.
The Western Sydney Health District has set up an online waiver and it used its social media channels to warn that couples of women who give birth cannot enter district hospitals without obtaining an exemption.
Tight controls in western Sydney follow the list of a number of exposure sites throughout the area, including SummitCare Baulkham Hills outbreak in a nursing home. The infected residents have been transferred to West Mead Hospital, which is within the health district.
In a Facebook post on Sunday, the Western Sydney Health District said “for those who are pregnant and must deliver at a WSLHD facility, please complete the waiver form and our team will respond to you as soon as possible.”
“Waivers will be available in extenuating circumstances only with a centralized process,” the publication said.
The Western Sydney Health post sparked hundreds of comments in response.
“You are preparing mothers who give birth for the trauma of childbirth and postpartum depression,” wrote one user.
Another user said: “You can’t ask a mother to give birth alone and let that child’s father / partner stay home and zoom in. What a joke. “
NSW Health was contacted for clarification on delivery visits.