Hospitals in NSW are much closer to capacity due to surging Covid cases than is being admitted by officials, doctors and nurses are warning, with one saying the system has “never been this bad”.
One senior specialist said “even the most routine urgent treatment” was already being cancelled to divert resources to Covid. “People will die,” he said.
The state’s chief health officer Kerry Chant repeated on Monday that the health system remained “very well placed” to cope with rising hospitalisation rates. The number of patients in intensive care units (ICU) rose 14% in the 24 hours to 8pm on another day of more than 20,000 new Covid cases in NSW.
Privately, though, doctors and nurses who are not authorised to speak publicly say the health system is close to capacity.
“No way will the health system cope,” said the senior specialist. “It’s never been this bad.”
The senior doctor said the focus on staff shortages overlooked the issue that all the state’s major hospitals were rapidly approaching bed capacity. At the current rate “every single bed will only be for Covid patients … it doesn’t matter how many staff they call back”.
A nurse at a major hospital, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that while her centre still had spare beds, there were “huge gaps in staffing”.
Lung and heart transplant patients were among those who were not getting the care they would have just two years ago, the nurse with almost a decade’s experience said.
“People are turning up really unwell,” she said. “They are staying 40, 50, 60 hours” in emergency wards while they wait for capacity to be made available.
“We don’t have enough staff to spread around,” the nurse said. “It’s just been brushed under the floor … we’re shocked.”
At Liverpool hospital, one of Sydney’s major medical centres in the city’s south-west, five general wards and two ICU wards had already been set aside for Covid patients.
The main emergency department waiting room on Monday was full with would-be patients who were spilling out into the street, with one young woman vomiting into a plastic bag as she waited to be seen.
Staff were not permitted to speak to the media. Guardian Australia was told no hospital official would be commenting, and was politely asked to leave the hospital premises.
Among those waiting in the 30C heat, though, was a mother and her two daughters from Padstow Heights, about 17km away from Liverpool.
One daughter had Covid symptoms and the trio had been waiting for more than an hour outside the emergency department to see a doctor. They had already tried unsuccessfully to get tested at three other public sites.
Alex Kanazir had waited four hours by early afternoon to have his 70-year-old mother treated for stomach pains. A month earlier, when his mum had broken her arm, they had only waited an hour before she was admitted, and spent five days in a ward.
One concern for those facing lengthy delays was the added risk of contracting Covid, even if that was not the prompt for the visit.
“It’s catch-22,” Kanazir said, adding visitors to the emergency department were warned there had already been at least one Covid case that morning.
Emergency patients at the hospital would ideally wait no more than four hours before being moved to appropriate wards. The current wait can be a day or more, one staffer said.
The nurse from another major hospital said general staff fatigue was on the rise and it was inevitable many experienced health workers would leave the industry.
“I think we’re going to see mass resignations,” she said. “This isn’t the way the health system should work.”