EMERGENCY nurses in Ballarat urge us to cautiously embrace new freedoms because unless our jab rate continues to lift, they fear the city's emergency department and COVID wards will be seeing more of us.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews reiterated on Friday lockdowns are done with when COVID vaccination rates are high enough to take pressure off the state's hospital system.
Ballarat Health Services' Base Hospital emergency nurses have shared their continually changing, tightly orchestrated safety routine with The Courier as they prepare to face an unknown but highly-likely surge in a ward already under rising pressure.
They view relentless physical and mental demands on the COVID frontline as vital to keep our community and themselves safe.
Victoria's health department has shifted its daily COVID numbers update to focus on persons hospitalised with the deadly virus. This comes as the state recorded 2,189 new COVID infections on Friday, coinciding with easing restrictions earned with a 70 per cent fully vaccinated milestone.
There were 784 people in hospital with COVID by Friday morning, including 145 in intensive care and 94 on ventilators.
Strong vaccination across City of Ballarat have made the Base Hospital open to taking Melbourne COVID cases the past fortnight.
The Base emergency department has also evolved with a new external space to triage respiratory patients.
Let's all of us do the right thing wherever we can to make sure that we're not making their job harder than it's already going to be.Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews
"Seven hundred or 800 patients [in hospital] doesn't seem a lot. But 700 or 800 patients who've got a wildly infectious disease is a challenging thing to have to manage," Premier Andrews said.
"Those numbers are going to grow as we open up. We're going to ask a lot of our nurses and a lot of the team in our hospitals.
"Let's all of us, in the choices we make and the way that we conduct ourselves, try our very best to not make the job of our nurses harder...Let's all of us do the right thing wherever we can to make sure that we're not making their job harder than it's already going to be.
"It is going to be difficult in the coming weeks and months. But there's simply no choice."
BHS acute operations executive director Ben Kelly said there had been a slight decrease in presentations to the Base emergency department the past year but cases of higher level severity in injury or illness continued to rise.
Ambulance arrivals to the Base hospital increased 8.5 per cent in the year to July. This does not account for a statewide spike in ambulance call-outs on September 27, the highest number of calls in single day since the 2016 thunderstorm asthma event.
Almost 30 per cent of people are arriving to the Base emergency department via ambulance.
It doesn't matter how you arrive, all patients undergo the same triage process and are seen in order of severity of their condition.Ben Kelly, Ballarat health Services acute operations executive director
"[This] is an important reminder for the community that it doesn't matter how you arrive, all patients undergo the same triage process and are seen in order of severity of their condition," Mr Kelly said.
"Wait times can be frustrating for the community, and we strive to see everyone as quickly as possible, however this is why it's so important that we save emergency for emergencies.
"While there has been a drop in presentations, wait times have been impacted during the pandemic. This is due to the zoning of the emergency department to meet COVID-19 infection control protocols, and the requirements of staff to ensure they are adhering to strict PPE requirements as they move between zones."
Mr Kelly's key messages for Ballarat are:
- Save emergency for emergencies
- Seek - or maintain - preventative care by booking in with your general practitioner, speaking to a pharmacist
- Making appointments for age-appropriate screenings, as this preventative care can also help mitigate the need for emergency presentations
- Please be patient and respectful towards staff and others in the emergency department if you need to come in. "Too often our staff experience violence and aggression, which is unacceptable," he said.
Victoria's chief health officer Brett Sutton said the new focus on daily hospital and vaccination figures were the best post-lockdown approach to protect the health system.
Professor Sutton said the unvaccinated and single dose people were getting sick and being hospitalised in large numbers.
"Ninety-four per cent of people in ICU are not fully vaccinated. So, get in the queue to be vaccinated. Don't get in the queue to go to hospital or to be in ICU," Professor Sutton said. "It is so critical to protect yourself and those around you".
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