“We are not coping now and it scares me to think what could happen. All the health professionals I talk to tell me that if we had any kind of outbreak in WA we are in serious trouble.”
Mr Olson said emergency departments across the state, Perth Children’s Hospital, and King Edward Memorial Hospital were among the worst affected by the staff shortage.
Australian Medical Association of WA president Dr Andrew Miller said hospitals had been forced to close down beds due to shortages, which meant patients had to wait for hours in ambulances.
“I can’t believe that we’re really short on nurses to the degree that the reason you can’t get seen quickly in an emergency department is that there are some beds in the hospital that are closed,” he said.
“The reason they are closed is we’ve got no nurses, yet we are graduating 2000 nurses a year.”
According to ANF data, about 2000 nursing students graduate every year but only half manage to secure employment in public and private health care across the state.
Mr Olson said the staff shortage stemmed from a lack of graduate programs for nursing students and an overreliance on the interstate and international workforce, which had slowed down to a trickle during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The government hasn’t made the investment in its junior nurses over the last 5 five to 10 years and they’ve taken the easier option of relying on overseas recruits,” he said.
“I know that over Christmas and New Year’s we’re going to have record numbers of doctors and nurses working extra shifts, double shifts, just to maintain a service to the community.”
Dr Miller said the nursing shortage was paired with a lack of permanent contracts for doctors, who were employed on a five-year basis.
“We are now burning through the workforce and burning them out so that they are starting to leave,” he said.
“If you can’t get a permanent job in WA why would you not go for a permanent job in one of the other states?”
The warning comes after Dr Miller sounded the alarm over WA’s struggling health system last week, saying hospitals were struggling to cope with a wave of viral respiratory illnesses.
“Our hospitals are already full of other respiratory viruses, we are not coping at the moment. We’ve got ambulances ramped from here to South Australia just about,” Dr Miller said at the time.
“If we get any COVID in there we are going to have to cancel pretty much everything else because it’s going to be a devastating situation.”
The Department of Health has been contacted for comment.
Marta is an award-winning photographer and journalist with a focus on social justice issues and local government.