industry & reform
Wing Besilos at an ICU nurse protest at Westmead Hospital .
Photo : John Feder / NCA NewsWire
Issues at Westmead ICU began long before Covid , says senior nurse .
By Eleanor Campbell
While COVID-19 hospitalisations have plateaued across NSW , the state ’ s intensive care nurses remain under intense pressure .
“ People are tired , people are angry , and helplessness and hopelessness are creeping in ,” said ICU nurse and NSW Nurses and Midwives ’ Association ( NSWNMA ) Councillor Wing Besilos .
“ Nurses are emotionally , mentally and physically drained .”
A group of 60 ICU nurses recently rallied outside Westmead hospital in Sydney to protest two years of excessive overtime and heavy workloads .
They called on NSW premier Dominic Perrottet to enter the hospital to see the conditions for himself .
“ COVID has highlighted the short staffing that ’ s been happening in the ICU at Westmead ,” said Besilos , who has been working at the hospital since the 1990s .
“ But even before the pandemic , the conditions in general ICU have been really bad in terms of staffing and working conditions for the nurses .”
Staffing issues inside Westmead ICU began in 2016-17 , according to Besilos , when the general ICU nurses were
8 | nursingreview . com . au divided into two sections under new management .
She said they later restructured in 2019 , transferring all 12 ICU beds into one area .
“ The layout is so unsafe because you ’ ve got a piece of wall in between two rooms so the nurse in there won ’ t be able to see other rooms .
“ So if you ’ re doubled up and one of your patients is there and the other is on the other side , then you won ’ t be able to see both patients .”
When the pandemic began , staffing issues worsened as nurses deemed close contacts were furloughed , and a lack of replacement workers left the remaining staff doubled up with patients .
“ We ’ ve become the parking area of the hospital ,” said Besilos .
“ Even if a patient is booked out , they won ’ t transfer the patient out because there ’ s no bed outside and there ’ s a bed in ICU .
“ It ’ s just really bad how management has been treating us .”
According to Besilos , patient safety has been compromised as a result of the ongoing shortages .
“ Today I was doubled up with a patient who was basically dying , and then the other was on a vasopressor ,” she said .
“ So I was with that patient for most of the day and didn ’ t get to look after the other patient and their family on the other side .”
“ We ’ ve become the parking area of the hospital .
According to Besilos , Westmead hospital policy requires people on vasopressors to receive one-to-one care .
A spokesperson from Western Sydney Local Health District told Nursing
Review that the ICU “ continues to provide single rooms for safe and effective infection control as well as patient comfort and privacy ”.
“ To support Westmead Hospital ’ s ICU workforce during the current COVID-19 outbreak , WSLHD has adapted our workforce models , bringing non-ICU nursing staff and experienced allied health staff together to work with ICU staff to provide additional support .
“ The implementation of this hybrid structure was done in consultation with our nursing staff and the NSW Nurses and Midwives ’ Association ( NSWNMA ). “ The layout of the Westmead
Hospital ICU has not changed .”
NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said he recognised the pressures facing health workers and was “ considering some of the operational challenges they have ”.
“ All I can really say at this point is the government is doing everything possible to address these concerns ,” Hazard told reporters . ■