Thousands of retired healthcare workers to return to the frontline as Covid ICU surge approaches

Catie McLeodNCA NewsWire
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Camera IconNot Supplied Credit: News Corp Australia

Thousands of retired doctors, nurses, psychologists and pharmacists are being asked to consider returning to the workforce to bolster the fight against coronavirus.

Almost 29,000 healthcare workers across Australia who recently stopped working have been made eligible to return to their full scope of practice for up to 12 months if they answer the call to join the Covid-19 response.

The Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency has now added 55,000 people to its sub-register since the pandemic began, creating an opt-out pool of practitioners from which to draw a surge workforce.

The medical watchdog on Wednesday contacted more than 8000 people in NSW to let them know they might be asked to rejoin the healthcare system, which is struggling with high caseloads while losing staff as they are forced into isolation.

Of the 12,810 active cases in NSW, 1232 people are admitted to hospital with 242 patients in intensive care, of whom 122 require ventilation.

Camera IconNSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has acknowledged the state’s healthcare system is under strain. NCA NewsWire/Damian Shaw Credit: News Corp Australia

NSW Health has already issued a public plea for retired nurses to return to work, while final year medical students have been signed up as assistants in medicine to aid in the crisis.

Modelling from the Burnet Institute, which underpins the Berejiklian government’s reopening plan, predicts intensive care admissions in NSW will peak at almost 950 in early November.

The modelling warns already stretched hospitals will become overwhelmed, while Premier Gladys Berejiklian has acknowledged the healthcare system is under significant pressure.

NSW health officials on Wednesday evening confirmed another major hospital in Sydney had been hit by a Covid-19 outbreak.

Liverpool Hospital in the city’s southwest has in the past week seen 24 patients and five staff members infected in six separate exposure site events at the hospital across multiple wards.

The hospital was the site of another outbreak in early August – after a partially vaccinated student nurse tested positive for the virus – that was linked to 10 deaths.

Contact tracers are still working to determine the source of the latest infection.

A South Western Sydney Local Health District spokeswoman said all of the staff members who had tested positive were vaccinated and the hospital had strict infection control measures in place.

“We thank all those at Liverpool Hospital for their continued dedication to providing outstanding patient care to all patients during these most challenging of times,” the spokeswoman said.

Camera IconChief Nursing and Midwifery Officer Professor Alison McMillan. NCA NewsWire/Gary Ramage Credit: News Corp Australia

Australia’s Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officer Alison McMillan said earlier this month that the AHPRA sub-register would boost staff numbers to allow people to work where they were most needed.

“So where we might have had nurses doing testing and vaccinations in significant numbers, we’re looking at using undergraduate students in medical and nursing and allied health to support our vaccine program so we can potentially move nurses back into the primary health and hospital system,” Professor McMillan told the ABC.

AHPRA chief executive officer Martin Fletcher said it was working with governments to help support Australia’s health system response to the pandemic.

“Public safety remains an important focus of AHPRA and the National Boards,” he said.

“Our focus has been on ensuring that practitioners available as a potential surge health workforce are properly qualified, competent and suitable to be on the sub-registers.”

Originally published as Thousands of retired healthcare workers to return to the frontline as Covid ICU surge approaches

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