COVID-19 pandemic modelling leaves NSW hospital staff ‘worried’ and ‘scared’

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Hospital staff say they are “scared” after the NSW government released modelling that paints a grim picture for Sydney’s COVID-ravaged hotspots.

Within the local government areas (LGAs) of concern, NSW Health is expecting it will record cases of 1,100 to 2,000 a day until mid-September.

The NSW Australian Medical Association (AMA) expressed concerns about the projections and about what the numbers would mean for staff in the state’s busiest intensive care units.

NSW AMA president Danielle McMullen said hospital staff were “scared” and “worried” about the weeks ahead.

“Saying things like ‘additional resources will be allocated’ is all well and good, but that means more staff, but where are they coming from, how will they be trained?” Dr McMullen said.

“Staff are scared, they are tired, and they are already worried they are going to be bringing COVID home to their families.

“We know the weeks ahead are going to be bad and that we all need to pull together, but what are we going to do to make sure there is another side to come out of?”

It is estimated that between 2,200 to 3,900 people will require hospitalisation during mid-September — this figure includes all hospitalisations, not just COVID-19 admissions.

There are currently 1,071 COVID-19 cases admitted to hospital, with 177 people in intensive care, 67 of whom require ventilation.

This is a 27 per cent increase on hospitalisation numbers from one week earlier.

Dr McMullen said deferring other health issues would also add to a strained system.

“Beyond [the modelling], we need to start discussing how we will handle COVID patients and non-COVID patients in November,” she said.

“Car accidents, trips and falls, all put strains on the system, so the real question going forward should be how are we going to structure our system so we can do both. We need to build something new.”

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the likely peak in demand for intensive care beds would come in early to mid-October.

NSW Health deputy secretary Susan Pearce said work had been carried out to increase the capacity of hospitals across the state.

“This will be an incredibly difficult and challenging time for our system as we work through this,” Ms Pearce said.

“The plans that have been put in place however are only as good as the people who deliver them. And my message at the moment to the public is we have amazing health staff who are out there each and every day working really hard to deliver the best possible care to our patients, and we will continue to do that this period.”

Greg Kelly, a pediatric intensive care specialist at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead,  said the systems, while stretched, were better prepared than they were a year ago.

“Our PPE is better, our safety procedures in hospital are better, but it is still a serious strain,” he said.

“No matter how good a system is, if cases of COVID keep going up it will overwhelm any system.

“Bringing those case numbers down and keeping them down is the most important thing.

“We’ve already seen what a strained system looks like. There are queues everywhere, the ambulance services are reporting some of their busiest days ever.”

Dr Kelly said a life beyond the model would rely on vaccination rates and the creation of a vaccine that would lessen transmission, but he admitted COVID-19 was here to stay.

“This virus will be with us for quite a while,” he said.

“Our current vaccines are good at preventing illness and death, which is fantastic, but they’re not good at stopping us from getting infected or passing on the virus to other people, though they do reduce it a bit.

“We’re hoping that with the evolution of further vaccines, we will have much more effective vaccines at stopping the transmission.”

The Premier said 750,000 vaccinations had been administered in NSW in the past week.

Up to 74 per cent of NSW’s eligible population have had at least one dose, and 40 per cent are now fully vaccinated.