THE COVID crisis is escalating on the Mornington Peninsula as the population swells over summer and the health system buckles under enormous strain.
Staff shortages at Peninsula Health and rising COVID-19 cases in Frankston and on the peninsula threatens to cripple the health system, with health workers struggling to keep up with demand and reports that up to 40 per cent of nurses have resigned.
There are reports from staff that ambulances are being forced to divert patients away from Frankston Hospital and some are having to “ramp” for long periods while they wait for confirmation of where patients can be treated.
On Sunday (9 January) the number of active case numbers jumped to 2252 on the Mornington Peninsula and 2022 in Frankston, eclipsing last Wednesday’s figures of just 400 cases on the peninsula.
A health worker who spoke to The News but did not wish to be named said staff members were overworked and exhausted and leaving the health system in droves.
The worker said ambulances were being turned away from Frankston Hospital and patients ferried between services in taxis because ambulances were “ramping” while they waited for hospitals to accept patients.
One local nurse who said more resources were needed to attract health staff, said they worked in “gruelling” conditions and were being “taken for granted and undervalued by the state government”, despite being essential workers.
“Everyone may need to be nursed back to health one day, so it’s crazy not to look after nurses,” the nurse said.
Health worker unions estimate that 20,000 nurses across the country left the profession last year, with critical shortages being faced by many ICU wards.
Worsening the situation, Ambulance Victoria is currently under strain trying to cope with a surge in triple-0 calls from people with COVID symptoms who don’t know where to turn. Across the state, more than one in five calls to triple-0 did not need an emergency response.
While not confirming the number of nursing staff who have left Peninsula Health in the past 12 months, executive director of medical services and clinical governance Associate Professor Shyaman Menon, said health services across the state were facing staffing issues caused by increasing COVID-19 cases.
He said Peninsula Health was managing the shortage “by enacting a number of strategies” to maintain a high standard of care for the community.
“Our normal ambulance protocols remain in place at Frankston and Rosebud emergency departments and we are supporting our neighbouring hospitals in the south east,” he said.
Professor Menon said the demand for emergency departments had been “stable” and strategies were in place to manage demand.
As of Friday (7 January) Peninsula Health had 35 inpatients with COVID-19, and no patients with COVID-19 in ICU. Staff are supporting an additional 1042 people with COVID-19 at home through the community program.
Peninsula Health testing clinics are conducting more than 2000 tests a day from sites across the peninsula, and there are reports of long queues and wait times in the afternoons up to several hours.
On Wednesday, the state government scrapped the requirement for people who received a positive rapid antigen test to then undergo a PCR test.