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Question: Health System Capacity

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (15:07): I seek leave to make a brief explanation before addressing a question on the topic of health system capacity to the Minister for Health and Wellbeing.

Leave granted.

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: We know that our health system is under pressure and chronic under-resourcing of our public hospitals is leading to nurses burning out as they feel pressured to take on double and extra shifts to meet the needs that we currently have. Widespread fatigue across healthcare staff is creating unsafe hospital environments for both the workers and, of course, the people in their care. My questions to the minister are:

1. What steps are being taken to address overwork, fatigue and burnout in our nursing and midwifery workforce?

2. What strategies does the government have for growing and supporting the workforce, particularly when it comes to retention but also as we look to the future and see shortages as people retire?

The Hon. S.G. WADE (Minister for Health and Wellbeing) (15:08): I thank the honourable member for her question, and it is a very pertinent one. We are clearly seeing a situation where our nursing workforce and, for that matter, all elements of our health workforce have now been working in a pandemic environment for 18 months.

It is really important that our management and our nurse leadership continues to provide care and support, but also to refresh the workforce. Just recently, three of our networks advertised for additional nurses. I think the number was about 340, but it might have been 370. That is part of trying to ensure that we continue to expand the workforce, considering the growing challenges, but also to refresh the workforce. We are certainly looking forward to the completion of the academic year for a whole cadre of nurses, and we are certainly interested to see what capacity there could be to recruit from that cohort as part of the pandemic response.

The pandemic response is obviously very dynamic. In the initial phase, the nurses were the backbone of our medi-hotel and our testing initiatives. As we are now in the vaccination phase, the nurses are again showing their agility and versatility in being strong leaders in the vaccination effort. The challenge of making sure that the workforce continues to be available for the various health challenges is also impacted by, if you like, the cyclical nature. Whereas testing and medi-hotels have been relatively stable over the period, vaccinations are obviously a peak event. We would be expecting significant numbers of nurses to be able to be redeployed as the vaccination program comes to a conclusion. That will give us an opportunity to refresh going forward.

I was talking to nurse leaders, for example at the Wayville clinic. They talked about strategies they have to try to support their nurses in the vaccine environment. For example, they would deploy nurses from the mass vaccination clinic, but then also give them the opportunity to have a different work experience by perhaps being part of a pop-up clinic like the clinic at the Myer Level 3 or any mobile clinic such as the Hutt Street clinic.

I have no doubt that nurses right across the state are continuing to work very hard. We are very grateful for their versatility. Many of them are taking on challenges that, if you like, they weren't trained for. The pandemic is throwing up both challenges and opportunities for nurses and other workforces. Certainly, workforce recruitment has been a major part of this government's effort to support the workforce, and we will continue to recruit both in the pandemic response and also in the business as usual response.

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