A new report shows NSW hospitals’ struggles during surging COVID-19. 

A recent report examining the COVID-19 response in New South Wales' health system has shed light on the challenges faced by understaffed rural and remote hospitals during the pandemic. 

The independent debrief, led by Robyn Kruk, says there is an urgent need to address staffing shortages in rural areas to enhance future pandemic preparedness.

The report identified that rural and regional local health districts were already operating at full capacity prior to the pandemic, lacking the flexibility to respond to the surge in COVID-19 cases. 

When the virus initially hit metropolitan areas, health staff from rural regions were redeployed, exacerbating the shortage in those areas when their own COVID-19 burden increased.

To improve the response to future pandemics, the report made six recommendations and outlined 29 priorities. 

It called for adequate resourcing of rural and remote Local Health Districts (LHD) during emergencies and emphasised the need for coordinated arrangements between states to facilitate movement of essential healthcare workers during border closures.

Acknowledging the impact of border closures on regional areas, which heavily rely on international and locum workforces, the report stressed the importance of minimising risks to patient care and providing flexibility on compassionate grounds.

The report commended the extraordinary contributions of healthcare staff throughout the pandemic, highlighting their flexibility, dedication, and preparedness to go above and beyond their duties during intense periods of pressure. 

It also recommended developing strategies to manage staff well-being in high-pressure situations to retain and attract new employees.

While there have been reports of some healthcare workers leaving the system due to the vaccine mandate, the report's authors noted that opposition to the policy was not a significant concern raised during the consultations.

The report also higlighted the need to expand the number of Aboriginal health workers, as they were stretched beyond capacity. 

Aboriginal health workers played a crucial role in providing culturally appropriate services and supporting other staff members.

According to the NSW Health website, all six recommendations from the report have been accepted, and planning for their implementation is currently underway. 

Progress on the recommendations will be reported by November 2023.