In the firing line
Coronavirus test clinics bear the brunt of public anger over long wait to be screened
People are frustrated, angry and sometimes abusive. They say, ‘We’ve been waiting in this f…ing line for two hours only to be told we’re not going to get tested.’”
That’s how a nurse summed up the public mood at a Sydney COVID-19 screening clinic, where a long line of worried people, many wearing masks, waited their turn to be seen.
When the clinic opened in mid-March only about 50 people presented each day.
Within a week the numbers had multiplied, and a permanent queue stretched along the street.
“The numbers are soaring every day,” the nurse said.
“We have four nurses, two doctors, three clerks and a NUM, all working together and keeping each other sane.
“But we need more doctors and nurses to run it efficiently and reduce the public anger.
“It’s very stressful when someone gets to the desk and starts abusing us when we tell them they don’t meet the testing criteria.”
More than a week after opening, additional staff were provided and “things are running more smoothly,” he said.
At the time of publication, testing was restricted to people with symptoms who had been in contact with confirmed cases or those with symptoms who had returned from overseas in the previous 14 days.
Also tested are healthcare workers who have to be swabbed even if they have only mild symptoms and meet none of the other criteria.
Test results usually are available 24 hours later for health workers and 72 hours for the general public.
Bring forward the 5000 nurses promised
At the testing clinic, patients are asked to describe their symptoms. If they meet the testing criteria, they fill out forms and join another queue to have their vital signs – respiratory rate, oxygen saturation level, blood pressure, temperature and heart rate – taken by a nurse or doctor. That’s followed by another wait to be swabbed by a nurse.
At first, only a small proportion met the testing criteria. A week later, more than half needed to be tested.
“We think a lot of people are falsifying their symptoms to meet the testing criteria,” the nurse said.
“They hear people in front of them arguing with our staff and figure out what the testing criteria are. Then they change their story to meet the criteria.
“Also, GP clinics are inappropriately turning away people with chest infections and other issues and then they come to us. That adds to the aggression when we tell them they don’t meet the criteria.”
Coronavirus testing clinics were established to take the pressure off emergency departments, which were under unprecedented strain even before the pandemic.
NSW EDs had a record number of presentations between October and December last year.The NSWNMA has urged the state government to bring forward its promised recruitment of 5,000 more nurses and midwives to help deal with the spread of COVID-19 and increased pressures on EDs.
“Nurses and midwives were already facing burn-out and fatigue after a difficult winter, but they pushed on through summer and the devastating bushfire season, only to be confronted with the pandemic,” said NSWNMA General Secretary Brett Holmes.
“We implore the NSW government to acknowledge its own hospital data. Yet again, it shows just how much nurses are battling on, feeling under-resourced, unsupported and under mounting pressure.
“We appreciate the government’s broader public health response towards tackling COVID-19 but we have not seen enough towards boosting frontline nursing staff numbers.”
The NSWNMA is providing advice and support to any member seeking information regarding COVID-19.
For the latest COVID-19 updates and guidelines available for your sector go to www.thelamp.com.au.