Surge payments for Victorian healthcare workers, including nurses, used as an incentive to navigate the overburdened health system caused by COVID-19, are set to cease from next month.
Yet, with COVID-19 remaining rampant across the state, there are calls for the government to extend the payments further.
The payment, introduced in October last year, provides an additional $60 payment per shift for public hospital and Ambulance Victoria workers who were face-to-face with COVID-19 patients. Nurses, midwives and doctors treating non-COVID patients would receive $30 more for each shift.
ANMF (Vic Branch) Acting Secretary Paul Gilbert, interviewed on 3AW Drive last week, said it would be madness for an allowance specific to addressing the surge in coronavirus cases in the health system would stop during the peak of the surge.
“[The payment] is a critical recognition of what our members are going through at the moment,” he said.
Mr Gilbert said the ANMF (Vic Branch) initially negotiated the payments and was confident they would be extended.
“The pressure on people at the moment is extreme. While we were in some sort of a crisis last year, we have had more patients and people testing positive every day now than the entity of 2021.”
Mr Gilbert said that as more people tested positive, work pressure had escalated very rapidly.
“We’ve got an extra 100 admissions a day for COVID in Victorian hospitals. Along with everything else that is going on and along with 6,800 healthcare workers being furloughed at any given time, it’s a real crisis.”
Mr Gilbert said the pressure on nursing staff was taking a toll.
“No leave has been approved for a nurse or midwife in the past 12 months. It’s been a very long two years, and everyone is hanging out for leave.”
“Each day it goes on, it’s going to get worse and worse. [Many nurses] go from depressed to angry to cranky. It differs amongst individuals, but there are many [in this position]. We have held hospital-wide virtual meetings across most of our large hospitals this week and more to come. It’s a pretty common theme that people are already burnt out.”
Mr Gilbert said he spoke to an anaesthetic nurse of 27 years who hadn’t worked on the ward since 1987.
“Because of the closure of surgery, she has been redeployed to a medical ward where they haven’t done medical nursing or medication management for 30 years.
“People are scared- they are scared about being sent into areas to work that they are not familiar with, that are short-staffed and overpopulated with really serious ill people,” he said.
Meanwhile, as increasing pressure mounts on the health system from the spread of the virus nationwide, ANMF state and territory branches and healthcare workers have also lobbied for a provision allowance to support healthcare staff in their jurisdictions.
The ANMF (SA Branch) said in a statement on their website that the union first sought consideration of a recognition payment by the Department of Health and Wellbeing in November last year.
A South Australian emergency nurse also wrote an open letter to Premier Steve Marshall this month calling for action at several levels to support nursing and midwifery staff, including surge payments.
While the letter, accompanied by an online petition, received much support, the Adelaide Advertiser reported that SA Treasurer Rob Lucas responded by saying that “they were not proposing to introduce a further scheme.”
“We have just paid our nurses, from 1 January, a generous 2% pay rise as part of an enterprise bargaining agreement,” he said in the news article.
However, the ANMF (SA Branch) said it would continue to be in regular dialogue with the Department, pressing for measures that recognise the additional stresses and strains associated with the pandemic workloads as the outbreak develops.
The NSWNMA (ANMF NSW Branch) have also been campaigning for the payment and patient to staff ratios desperately needed to manage the surge.
The implementation of the surge payment in NSW has been supported by the state’s Shadow Minister for Health, Ryan Park.
The number of hospitalisations from COVID-19 in New South Wales has surged from 382 on Christmas Eve to 2,383 as of 13 January 2022.
As of last week, almost 4,000 health staff were furloughed due to exposure to COVID-19 in the state.