An informal member survey, conducted by the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine (ACEM; the College), revealed large numbers of medical positions in emergency departments (EDs) across the country remain unfilled for the clinical year ahead, with average national shortfalls of 28% for specialist trainee roles, 30% for junior medical officers and 10% for senior decision-maker roles.
Rural, regional, and remote EDs are expected to continue to experience workforce issues most significantly, with members in some of the nation’s country EDs reporting staff shortages as high as 85% for specialist trainee roles, 66% for junior medical officer positions and 22% for senior decision-maker roles.
ACEM President Dr Clare Skinner said, “Emergency department staff desperately want to provide high quality care to people with acute health needs. But in many EDs, there are simply too many ill or injured people needing help, and not enough staff to provide the timely treatment they require.”
“The most common reason emergency physicians across Australia get in touch with me is to say, ‘We can’t recruit – we have so many roles left empty.’ They’re so worried about how they will be able to safely meet patient needs with insufficient staff – and they’re worried about losing even more.”
The College warns that ED staffing shortages are self-perpetuating: Skilled staff leave because of unsustainable working conditions, then working conditions get worse because of further staff shortages – so more skilled staff leave, or reduce their working hours.
ACEM urges stakeholders across the health system, and governments at all levels, to urgently invest in measures to support and retain the current healthcare workforce, and to ensure future safe staffing levels, so that all patients can get the acute care they need, when and where they need it.
Dr Skinner said, “Healthcare workers are the most vital part of the health system. We need to make emergency departments desirable and safe places to work, where all staff are supported to provide the best possible care to patients and can experience rewarding and sustainable careers."
"Australia’s emergency clinicians stand ready to work with colleagues across the system, and all stakeholders and decision-makers, on the collaborative reimagination and reform of the healthcare system.”
The College recently warned that we can’t keep relying on the empathy of healthcare staff – who are often working past breaking point to care for Australians in need – to keep the health system going. ACEM has also called for investment in the areas of federal responsibility that contribute to dangerous pressures in EDs, including Medicare, the NDIS and aged care.
The UK’s Royal College of Emergency Medicine publicly urged Australia to learn from the UK’s current “avoidable” healthcare system collapse, with “staff morale, moral injury and moral distress” contributing to the crisis.
ACEM is the peak body for emergency medicine in Australia and New Zealand, responsible for training emergency physicians and advancement of professional standards. www.acem.org.au
Melissa Howard [email protected] + 61 427 621 857