Victoria’s ailing public hospitals will be topped up with an extra 400 health workers to combat rising COVID-19 hospitalisations and staff absenteeism.
A $162 million package to respond to the emerging Omicron BA.4 and 5 variants leaving more people in hospital and healthcare workers sick was unveiled by the Victorian government on Sunday.
It will fund about 400 additional specialist staff at 12 major hospitals across Melbourne and Geelong.
Among the staff will be offload nurses for ambulances, triage doctors responsible for assessing patients and discharge co-ordinators to focus on the timely transition of care from the ward to home or another health facility.
Some of the health workers will be recruited and others redeployed from current roles as their jobs are backfilled, Premier Daniel Andrews says.
“They’re all funded – the money’s not the issue,” he told reporters.
“It’s just a matter of moving people around the system so that patients can move through the system better, safer and have the best care in the right place at the right time.”
Recruiting the staff won’t be easy and could take a couple of months, Mr Andrews conceded.
Since June 22, Victoria has experienced a 99 per cent rise in people in hospital with COVID-19, a 60 per cent increase in COVID-related ICU admissions and a 47 per cent spike in workforce furloughs.
More than 10,000 Victorian health staff were off work sick over the first week of July alone, according to the state government.
Hitting the 800 COVID-patient benchmark has triggered stage three of Victoria’s winter response plan, unlocking private hospital capacity for public patients and allowing paramedics to transport infected patients to more local hospitals.
Other new measures include setting up new pediatric GP respiratory clinics at the Royal Children’s Hospital and Monash Children’s Hospital, and a trial to use some private hospital EDs and acute beds to treat public patients.
The Victorian government has ruled out another system-wide emergency “code brown” in hospitals, but Mr Andrews flagged more initiatives to alleviate health system pressure will be announced this week.
The premier returned from leave early to attend Saturday’s snap national cabinet meeting, as the federal government bowed to criticism and reinstated the axed $750 pandemic isolation payment.
Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly gave a “sobering” report on the challenges Australia faces in coming months and years, with leaders committing to meet more regularly.
“We are back to meeting more often, given this is a national issue faced by every state and territory,” Mr Andrews said.
Opposition Leader Matthew Guy continued to blame the premier for the state’s buckling health system, saying the government had months to plan for winter.
“These staff aren’t even going to come on any time soon. Victorians need certainty of policy in our health service as much as anything else,” he said.
Another 9630 COVID-19 cases and 16 deaths were reported in Victoria on Sunday, as virus-related hospitalisations dipped back below 800.