Home | Clinical Practice | Pandemic highlights need for planning and protection: opinion
A nurse puts on her work gear at the start of a shift on March 12, 2020 at the Cremona hospital, southeast of Milan, Lombardy. Photo: Paolo Miranda/AFP

Pandemic highlights need for planning and protection: opinion

The global COVID-19 pandemic has widespread and insidious consequences that in many instances go beyond personal health and the ramifications of which may not yet be fully known.

For some the impact may be as minor as struggling to buy toilet paper, but for others the losses may be as serious as their job or business, and of course the most serious loss is the loss of life.

My thoughts and prayers are with everyone who is unwell, has a family member who is sick or has lost a loved one to this virus.

Our frontline health and aged care workers, including the nation’s nurses, deserve enormous credit for the role they have played in helping our community battle this crisis.

Nurses are highly trained and skilled in infection control. While COVID-19 is a new disease, this is business as usual for our nurses.

What isn’t business as usual though, are the expectations and implications being generated by this pandemic compared to other outbreaks. We have all seen images and stories of nurses burnt out and exhausted, sporting injuries from PPE and overwork, and being abused by scared patients.

While nurses are giving their all to care for our community, we must not forget to care for them. This means ensuring access to appropriate PPE and clinical advice and giving them peace of mind that they will be supported personally and professionally.

There are already a number of cases of nurses having to self-isolate after exposure to COVID-19, and this is likely to continue to grow. Nurses – no matter their employment type – deserve guarantees they will continue to be paid if they cannot work for a period of time simply because they were doing their job.

If schools close, many nurses will be asked to choose between taking care of their family and continuing to keep our health care services operating. Consideration should be given to providing childcare allowances to health care professionals or establishing a workforce of vetted childcare volunteers to help them if this scenario arises.

Measures contained in the Commonwealth and State funding packages, such as increased utilisation of telehealth, are very welcome. However, practical initiatives that will keep nurses and other health care professionals working should not be overlooked.

Of course, while coronavirus takes all our attention, Australia is also heading into winter and flu season. Nurses need to make flu vaccination a priority over coming weeks.

The COVID-19 pandemic highlights our need to be better prepared for future health emergencies. Once we pull together through this crisis, there will need to be significant attention given to issues such as workforce planning. 

Adjunct Professor Kylie Ward FACN is CEO of the Australian College of Nursing (ACN). ACN is the pre-eminent and national leader of the nursing profession and a community of dynamic and passionate nurses.

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