26 September 2023

Understaffed health workers declare emergency

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An emergency Code Brown has been declared by the Department of Health across all public metropolitan and major regional hospitals for the first time in the State’s history.

Announced by Acting Minister for Health, James Merlino, the Pandemic Code Brown, which came into effect on Wednesday (19 January), puts in place a formal emergency management structure to allow hospitals make the best use of their resources to battle the Omicron outbreak.

“Like many around the world, Victoria’s health system is juggling workforce shortages because of staff in isolation, a vast number of coronavirus patients requiring hospitalisation, and ongoing treatment for patients with urgent and emergency needs,” Mr Merlino said.

“Changes health services can implement include configuring services to free up more staff, including the delivery of outpatient services outside the hospital, and the rapid offload of ambulance patients at emergency departments to get paramedics back on the road as soon as possible,” he said.

“Hospitals may also choose to redeploy staff to work in areas of highest clinical priority.”

Mr Merlino said in addition to hospitals in Metropolitan Melbourne, the Code Brown had been implemented at Barwon Health, Grampians Health, Bendigo Health, Goulburn Valley Health, Albury Wodonga Health and Latrobe Regional Hospital.

The Minister said a coordinated approach to activating each hospital’s Code Brown response plans was necessary to help health services, including Ambulance Victoria, work together rather than in isolation.

“The Department of Health will also establish a new Health Service Response Centre which will help hospitals coordinate patient flow, distribute activity and support decisions around service reconfiguration – such as suspending some activity or moving to home-based care,” he said.

“Additionally, there will be an expansion of COVID-streaming sites to increase the number of hospitals caring for coronavirus patients – easing the pressure at hospitals currently handling the most patients.”

Mr Merlino said health services and the health workforce would continue to have responsibility for clinical and operational decisions that affected patients and their communities.

He said the Pandemic Code Brown was expected to last for four to six weeks and health officials would monitor the situation to determine when it was safe to begin winding down the arrangements.

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