Improve health worker conditions by investing more in public health

Photo from Shutterstock: Health workers are worn out

Contributed by Ben Wilson

How has Australia got to the point where a senior doctor. Professor John Wilson feels a need to warn the public that Australians will no longer be able to assume that if they get sick there will be an ambulance, hospital bed, or doctor to take care of them?

Even while we are still experiencing the impact of Covid, health workers are treated with disrespect and betrayed by a health system that takes people for granted. The problem for people working within the system is that they are over worked, and during the pandemic, overwork has risen to the point that health workers are breaking down under the stress and fatigue. And nothing is done about it. So much for thanking them for saving lives.

Professor Wilson said, “You’ll pick up the phone and there’ll be an ambulance, there’ll be a doctor waiting at the hospital, there’ll be a bed for you. But that can’t happen anymore.

“Ambulances are ramped up, not able to unload at the hospitals. Doctors are run off their feet and getting burned out. Beds are not available and waiting times are growing.

“We’re not in a situation where this could get worse, it is worse now.

“The healthcare system that we’re working in at the moment now is failing and the evidence of that is absolutely clear.”

Health workers, from doctors, to nurses, ambulance drivers, to non-medical staff are quitting. They have had enough. Unless something gives, this will become a flood.

A study of over 9,000 healthcare workers during the pandemic found 57 per cent of the workforce was struggling with depression, almost 60 per cent with anxiety and over 70 per cent with moderate to severe burnout

Sydney nurse Hayley Chandler recently made the difficult decision to leave the industry after working throughout the pandemic.

“Feeling burnt out, you obviously bring those emotions home. [I was] tired coming to work, very emotional at home sometimes,” she told 7.30.

“And I also felt quite bad in talking to patients, that I felt that I wasn’t giving them the level of care that I would like to give just simply because I was stretched to my absolute thinnest.”

Hayley is now studying law.

Making it worse is that the pandemic is still far from over and it is being ignored by government and the public has been led to the misconception that it is almost over, despite infections and deaths continuing to rise. Health workers are paying a heavy price for this failure.

The combination of continuing pressure on the health system and inadequate funding, are forcing it to crack.

Speaking for the Australian Medical Association, emergency physician Dr Sarah Whitelaw called out the misguided attitude that the pandemic is over on the 7.30 program. She said there are a number of factors, including staff shortages, increased demand, and now the arrival of a virulent type of flu.

Dr Sarah Whitelaw 

It is perfectly clear now that Australia’s health system needs a major injection of resources and a shift away from the ideology that it is a business. It is not. The health system is a public good on which the health of society and the success of the economy depend. Resources should be allocated accordingly.

This includes ensuring that there are enough staff and that their working conditions are adequate. After all, where would we be without them?

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