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It can feel like that as we manage the impacts of COVID-19, for yet another year, in our lives, in society, and in the health system.
Like me – and Bill’s character Phil Connors – I bet sometimes you feel like you just can’t do one more version of the same day. But we do. Because that’s who we are. We show up and we help people. And, like the crotchety weatherman we will continue to find the humour and lessons and gifts that we can find as we repeat the same day, over and over.
But we must take care of ourselves, above all. I won’t patronise you by smothering you in platitudes. I will just remind us all – myself included – to make sure we leave something in the cup for ourselves and our loved ones, and to find strength in each other, and in the things that give us joy and purpose.
We will get through this. And we will use the momentum that is building, as the waves roll and crash around us, to lead the health system into new, healthier ways of working. We can do it, if we all work together, across the system, to design something better.
But it is taking its toll, I know.
Across our two nations we are all experiencing the same issues: overwhelming demand, critical staff shortages and rampant access block, exacerbated by the worst winter of viruses, including COVID-19, most of us have ever seen.
So, what can be done to ease the pressures in the short term? State, territory, and federal governments are primarily taking a personal responsibility approach to COVID-19 management, as they perceive – probably accurately – that, after over two years of paused lives, and mixed messaging, people have simply run out of patience.
The College, pragmatically, recognises the limitations in the efficacy of governments instructing the populace what to do, whilst also encouraging governments to consider stronger public health measures to potentially slow the rate of infection and prevent further demand on the health system.
We encourage everyone to make sure they are up to date with vaccinations, to mask where possible and practical, and to plan social events in ways that allow for healthier interactions.
Despite all the focus on COVID-19, we know it didn’t cause the issues, and that there are other, longer-term, problems feeding into the crisis in our health system.
The other night, driving home from work, I chatted on the phone with a colleague. She described the shift she had just finished. Nine nurses short, four doctors down, on a roster with chronic vacancies, delivering compromised care in the waiting room because there were no beds available in ED due to record-breaking numbers of access blocked patients. Every patient that was waiting for a hospital bed was linked to deficits in community health: aged care, mental health, or disability support, which in Australia are federal government responsibilities. And I am sure that most of you, like me, have experienced the same. Over and over again. Groundhog day.
If these areas were properly managed and resourced, we know there would be a lot more capacity in our emergency departments and hospital wards. In Australia, these are federal problems, being experienced in the states and territories, and it is the responsibility of the federal government to take charge and solve them. In Aotearoa New Zealand, we hope that the governance restructure which is currently underway in health will not leave these marginalised and vulnerable people further behind.
ACEM supported Labor’s policies on these issues in the leadup to the 2022 Australian federal election. Now, it’s time need to see these problems addressed. The College will be advocating for stronger primary and community care, and for an urgent focus on health workforce sustainability, on both sides of the ditch.
Please be assured, that the College will always hold governments to account for maintaining their responsibilities, and in line with the ACEM core values, we aim to collaborate with them to find and implement solutions. Our college is the expert and trusted voice on emergency care – and we will work with patients, carers, governments and other health stakeholders – to solve this acute health crisis. Together, we can fix it.
On a more positive note, last week we welcomed Emily Wooden to the position of College CEO. Emily brings a wealth of experience in the specialist medical training sector to ACEM, and we are excited to work with her as she contributes new ideas and energy to this key leadership role.
As always, thank you for all that you do. Please know that whatever comes in the next month, we will get through it as we always do – together.
Dr Clare Skinner
ACEM President