March 25 wasn’t an ideal date for agency nurses. Due to the impact of COVID19, all elective surgeries were placed on hold by the Australian government. So for some who relied heavily on agency work to fulfill their income, this was, pardon the pun, “a tough pill to swallow”. That’s all about to drastically change however, in a big way.
Australia has done a great job slowing the spread of coronavirus and by virtue of this, has meant our hospital system didn’t feel the same impact on resources as some other countries. The plan is to continue along this trajectory and this has meant elective surgeries are now back being conducted in NSW and the rest of the country. This is great news for agency nurses, as all surgeries that were placed on hold are now in a position to recommence. However, what volume of work can we come to expect.
In a recent article published (see link here), it has been suggested approximately 400,000 procedures were cancelled due to the COVID19 pandemic. That’s plenty of medical procedures to catch up on.
Now, social-distancing measures have meant that hospitals are not yet able to operate at full capacity. They have been provided the go-ahead to be at 75 percent of their pre-pandemic elective surgery capacity by June end, 2020. So the volume of elective surgeries may not be at the level they once were just yet, however with the backlog of work needing to be completed, we can expect the high volume of demand to continue for the foreseeable future.
So what does this mean for those nurses who are working for agencies? We see it as the start of returning to a level of normality - a massive positive! Some agency nurses have told me personally that the work has been a tad light recently. This had me puzzled, considering we are in a pandemic! Though when asking them more questions regarding this, we discovered some hospitals were requesting employed staff to not take leave due to a potential influx of patients. The other reason I heard was that people themselves were not taking leave as they were unable to travel. As we have a better understanding of the volume of patients in our hospital system and borders reopening for travel now, I would expect to see more employed hospital staff taking time off.
Now factor this in with an increased level of elective surgeries. Private Healthcare Australia is stating waiting lists for elective surgeries at public hospitals would not return to pre-pandemic levels until June 2022 (source). While private patients normally wait an average of 24 days for surgery, compared with 109 days in the public system, the backlog from the elective surgery ban means some private patients are waiting months. This will take a lengthy amount of time to get this back to normal levels - again increasing demand for the nurses to take care of these patients.
Should the COVID19 cases continue to dwindle, it’s just a matter of time before day surgery clinics also get provided with the green light to welcome business again. We know that qualified nurses are required to take care of these patients in some instances and as some day surgeries may want to take advantage of the increased demand of work needing to be completed, may look to engage agency staff as a way of facilitating this work.
I’ve also noticed Telehealth is growing in popularity. For those who don’t know, Telehealth is the distribution of health-related services and information via electronic information and telecommunication technologies. It allows long-distance patient and clinician contact, care, advice, reminders, education, intervention, monitoring and remote admission (source). A whole new industry could be established and what better way to resource it than agency nurses, who can meet the needs of fluctuating demand.
We know it’s been hard on all nurses, especially our agency friends. However, we are big believers that the light is at the end of the tunnel and we can expect to see a return to work volumes of what once was and more. As the country starts to open up its borders and people can live a life they were accustomed to before, agency nurses will also enjoy those same pleasures - an increase in available work and hopefully a holiday or two when you need it due to being worked out. Everyone needs a little rest and recuperation some time!
Emergency Registered Nurse
Co-Founder The Other Shift