A coordinated Pandemic Code Brown will be implemented across all public metropolitan and major regional Victorian hospitals, the Victorian Department of Health has announced.
The Code, to commence on Wednesday 19 January 2022, puts a formal emergency management structure in place to make the best use of hospital resources as Victoria battles the global Omicron outbreak with workforce shortages because of staff in isolation and a vast number of coronavirus patients requiring hospitalisation.
The changes for health services could include configuring services to free up more staff, incorporating the delivery of outpatient services outside the hospital, and the rapid offload of ambulance patients at emergency departments to get paramedics back on the road as soon as possible. Hospitals may also choose to redeploy staff to work in areas of highest clinical priority, the Victorian Government has stated.
The Department of Health will also establish a new Health Service Response Centre, which will help hospitals coordinate patient flow, distribute activity and support decisions around service reconfiguration – such as suspending some activity or moving to home-based care.
The Pandemic Code Brown is expected to last four to six weeks and health officials will monitor the situation to determine when it’s safe to begin winding down arrangements.
The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF Vic Branch) will attend a code brown briefing for health unions later today.
The union said the simultaneous increase in COVID positive admissions and the thousands of nurses and midwives required to furlough each day had caused the dire situation.
The ANMF Vic Branch said COVID hospitalisations were expected to continue to rise until February.
However, the union said refined furloughing guidelines released on 15 January and improved access to rapid antigen tests (RAT) over the coming days would alleviate some of the shortages as more staff will be able to return after a negative RAT.
ANMF (Vic Branch) Acting Secretary Paul Gilbert said nurses and midwives had had the week from hell, on top of two years of intense difficulty.
“These coming weeks will only be worse,” he said.
“The Andrews Government has acknowledged nurses’ and midwives’ serious concerns and is sending an honest, crystal-clear message to the community that our health system is facing challenges not seen in more than a century.
“Staffing a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week roster is impossible when you are missing up to 7,000 members of your workforce,” Mr Gilbert said.
“Nurses and midwives are working short-staffed under emergency surge team models that include students and allied health.
“They’re exhausted and making incredibility stressful decisions about how they prioritise and ration patient care to maintain safety.”