There’s no going back
It can’t just be business as usual post-COVID-19, lessons need to be learnt and applied.
If there is one glaring lesson to be learnt from the pandemic it is that science needs to be restored to its proper place at the centre of our decision-making processes.
This is particularly true in respect to health.
The idea that health can be managed with a minimal workforce and a “just in time” system of procurement has been badly exposed by COVID-19.
The signs, evidence and warnings were always there that the public health system needed to be more robust and better resourced and there needed a to be a plan-in-waiting for the manufacture, procurement and distribution of vaccines.
The slavish belief in a global market protected by so called free trade agreements resulted in insufficient manufacturing capability in areas like essential personal protective equipment. This placed our members lives at risk.
COVID-19 didn’t come out of the blue. There have been several pandemics on our doorstep in Asia over the last few decades. Many Asian countries heeded the warnings from SARS and MERS and strengthened their public health systems and prepared their public health responses.
All these countries responded much more quickly, decisively and effectively to the outbreak. Our lack of preparedness and the extended fight needed to get agreement to even fit test for respirator masks was an indictment of a system focused elsewhere.
Australia’s response, like many countries in the western world, has been shaped by an immediate concern for the economy coming before life and the health of the community.
It is now clear that a lack of worldwide supply of respirator masks delayed the acceptance of the immediate need for communities to adopt face masks as an early defence to an airborne pathogen.
Our capacity as an island to close borders meant there was complacency in securing adequate early supplies of vaccines.
Deep into the pandemic, with a year to prepare and numerous vaccines on tap, vulnerable frontlines like quarantine and aged care were unconscionably neglected and left exposed.
Underpinning this neglect of public health is the misguided idea that health is somehow not a top economic priority. That it is an expense not an investment.
Solidarity is needed to get us through
At another level the pandemic has shown how important collective action and solidarity is to deal with a public health emergency.
At least some of the vaccine hesitancy that has proved an obstacle to resolving the crisis has its roots in a culture of individualism and a narrow interpretation of freedom.
I am deeply saddened by the loss of nurses and midwives who have made choices to end their employment rather than be vaccinated. They have a strong belief in their own individual choice which overrides the greater good of a vaccinated society where nurses and midwives do every reasonable thing to protect themselves and their patients from serious harm.
It has been jarring to hear some of our leaders harping on about individual responsibility when a sense of solidarity and civic mindedness, a caring for each other as well as for self is the only way out of this predicament.
Which brings us to the here and now.
For as long as I have been the General-Secretary of this union the Association has been warning successive NSW governments of the vulnerability of our public health system and the need for it to be strengthened and properly staffed and resourced.
In this month’s Lamp we look at how the public health system in rural and regional areas has been allowed to degrade to the point where it is leaving local communities dangerously vulnerable.
It is equally true of the city where the current outbreak of the Delta strain has put our ICUs and EDs on the brink.
Nurses everywhere are telling us that they are barely coping. And it is only because of their heroic sacrifices that the system itself is hanging on. But this state of affairs is totally unsustainable.
This month we also look at the latest ratios research from the United States. It documents how ill prepared US hospitals were for the pandemic. We know that there are parallels here in Australia.
It concluded that “a robust nursing workforce is essential for addressing the current and future outbreaks”.
This is something we have relentlessly fought for in our ratios campaigns and something we will relentlessly continue to fight for.