While the intensity and uncertainty of the initial stages of the response to COVID-19 may have eased just a little bit, there is still a need to remain vigilant and prepared, as we head in to winter and what is traditionally the busy ‘flu season’.
Exactly how that manifests this year remains to be seen. Will physical distancing measures continue to limit the spread of the flu as well? Will emergency department presentations return to “normal” as lockdown measures are gradually eased? Will the dreaded ‘second wave’ of COVID-19 eventuate?
There are still many unknowns, but we do know that as emergency physicians we remain poised to deal with any eventuality. We appear to have got ourselves on a life raft, just uncertain which way to paddle it, unlike colleagues in UK, Europe and the US who are still floundering in the water. There were a million new cases worldwide in the last week, 90 in Australia and none in New Zealand.
Something else we know as we continue to contend with the coronavirus, is that we cannot afford to go back to chronically overcrowded and access blocked emergency departments. There must be no going back.
There are already issues re-emerging in Tasmania, as well as reports coming from other locations. We know about the dangers posed by access blocked and overcrowded emergency departments to staff and patients, even without a pandemic to contend with. Adding in the complexities and infection risks posed by COVID-19 in overcrowded EDs, the returning to such dire situations becomes even more dangerous and unacceptable.
With the health of our systems having a significant impact on the wellbeing and wellness of emergency department staff, seeking to address these issues will remain a key advocacy priority for the College as we move ahead.
Speaking of wellness, it is crucially important that we all maintain a focus on this; be it as individuals, through the College, or via our peer, family and friendship networks, particularly given all that we have already been through this year.
This conversation is timely also in light of this year’s CrazySocks4Docs Day (5 June), which is once again supported by ACEM. The day, started by Victorian cardiologist Dr Geoff Toogood, is an important opportunity to encourage conversations about mental health and help reduce the stigma for doctors experiencing mental illness.
While notions of wellness, and what works will be different for everybody, a diverse array of options are available, to help find the balance, resources and support needed, as we continue striving to address burnout and its impact in our field of emergency medicine.
One such support is our College, underpinned by its core values of Equity, Respect, Integrity and Collaboration, and shaped by the diverse voices of its members and trainees. Our College is there because of, and for, its members and trainees; and within, there exist many opportunities to get involved, make a difference and contribute to the change you would like to see. There are many who state that the antidote to burnout is engagement.
Another important undertaking to get underway very shortly, is that ACEM will be seeking support from FACEMs on a special resolution to include a new object in the College Constitution; to explicitly state the College’s commitment to excellence and equity in emergency care for Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and Māori people in Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand.
While the College has long ascribed to these sentiments, this will be an opportunity to formalise ACEM’s commitment in our Constitution, when it comes to meeting the healthcare needs of the indigenous peoples of our nations, and truly embody the College’s Core Values.
This is an important step for the College, and furthers work undertaken over the last decade to improve cultural safety and work with First Nations peoples to address health inequities. This will be conducted by a postal ballot from June 22, so please keep an eye out for further information and details. I encourage all Fellows to get involved, and on board with this important statement.
It is timely that this undertaking from the College will come not long after this year’s National Reconciliation Week (27 May – 3 June), in Australia, a time to reflect on and learn about our shared histories, cultures and achievements and to explore how each of us can join the national reconciliation effort.
All of this serves to remind us of the important part we all have to play in the business of reconciliation, and the roles and responsibilities we hold in addressing the healthcare needs and outcomes of indigenous peoples across Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand, including through the College’s Reconcilaition Action Plan and Te Rautaki Manaaki Mana: Excellence in Emergency Care for Māori.
In signing off, I would like to once again reinforce the importance of kindness, civility and compassion in all that we do. These notions can be lifesaving; reducing errors, cynicism, burnout, absenteeism, while improving teamwork, patient safety and outcomes.
It has been a tough last six months; bushfires, the Whakaari White Island eruption, and a global pandemic. Amidst it all, our shared humanity prevails, and we will continue to support one another.
Thank you, as always, for the work that you do.
Kia kaha – be strong
Dr John Bonning