The Australian Medical Association’s Victorian president, Roderick McRae, said the funding was a “courageous investment” and he anticipated the new staff could be sourced from existing healthcare workers and the private sector.
“There has to be an advertising and recruitment campaign, but in the very short term, there may be some people who are not working full-time who can step up to increasing their hours,” he said. “There may be some people, say, who are employed in the private sector but can afford some of their time to work in the public sector, say on a weekend basis.”
Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation Victoria branch secretary Lisa Fitzpatrick said many of the roles could also be filled by hundreds of the state’s nurse practitioners, who are among the most highly skilled in the field, having undertaken master’s degrees enabling them to do specialist roles such as prescribe medications.
“There are 581 of these most senior clinical nurses in the state, yet we know the health system is preventing between 200 and 300 nurse practitioners from working to their full scope of practice and full potential,” Fitzpatrick said.
“There will be some redeployment necessary and this will be made a little easier with the new mid-year graduate nurses starting.”
State Opposition Leader Matthew Guy said the new staff announcement was too late.
“These staff aren’t even going to come on any time soon,” he said. “The premier promised 4000 ICU beds two years ago and not a single one has been delivered. Now he wants you to believe he’s got all the answers when it comes to staffing shortages.”
The Age revealed last week the Royal Melbourne Hospital would be the first in the state to have a separate space in the emergency department where patients arriving by ambulance can be assessed and offloaded, allowing paramedics to quickly get back on the road.
The model mirrors successful health programs in the UK, where emergency department consultants were placed at triage to retrieve patients, leading to a marked reduction in ambulance ramping during the peak of COVID waves. The ambulance union and Australian Patients Association have been pushing the government to enact such models for months.
Victorian Ambulance Union state secretary Danny Hill said it would be difficult for the government to find 400 more healthcare workers at a time when the system was experiencing a workforce crisis.
“There will no doubt be challenges with it, but I think it will be appealing to people already working in the health system,” he said.
“We have been behind the eight-ball for so long and this is about getting in front of it. We have to act now to reduce workloads and keep patients safe because nothing is taking more staff out of system than burnout.”
The state health controller has declared Victoria will move into stage three of the health system’s winter response plan, which includes using private hospital capacity to care for public patients.
Andrews said the move to stage three would not result in any cuts to elective surgery and it was up to health services to decide whether they would call staff back from leave.
On Saturday, the number of people in hospital in Victoria with COVID-19 reached 802, the highest number since February 1. Since June 22, there has been a 99 per cent increase in the number of Victorians in hospital with COVID-19. Admissions to intensive care due to the virus have risen by 60 per cent.
The 400 new roles were announced alongside two new paediatric GP respiratory clinics to combat surges in flu and COVID-19 in children. The clinics will be run by the Royal Children’s Hospital and Monash Children’s Hospital to treat children experiencing low to moderate respiratory symptoms.
Andrews also mooted a new trial in which two private hospitals will take on more acute patients arriving in ambulances to ease demand on major tertiary hospitals.
Health Minister Mary-Anne Thomas said healthcare workers knew it was going to be a “tough winter”, with the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron subvariants proving highly infectious, alongside surges in influenza.
Meanwhile, doctors have continued to stress their concerns over the decision to end rebates for dozens of pandemic-related telehealth services after the federal government on Saturday agreed to create a new, temporary Medicare item to cover longer GP telehealth consultations to prescribe COVID-19 antivirals.
The decision came after the Australian Medical Association and Royal Australian College of General Practitioners pressed their case with Health Minister Mark Butler on Friday, but both organisations said the change did not go far enough.
Australian Medical Association president Dr Omar Khorshid said older Australians and people without the means to make video calls could not afford to lose access to the other telehealth services.
Royal Australian College of General Practitioners president Dr Karen Price said the decision to end rebates for longer telephone consults, except for antiviral appointments, was “crazy” during a winter resurgence of the pandemic.
With Lisa Visentin
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