As New South Wales hospitals prepare for peak admissions and intensive care units overwhelmed next month, the voices of those on the front lines are eerily muted.
Often times, it is family members, union representatives, professional bodies and patients who provide a window into what life is like for front-line staff in NSW hospitals.
Journalists scour Facebook for patient and staff posts about what it’s really like. Occasionally, videos of patients appear recounting their experiences, such as the one in which a woman described being in a tent for nearly eight hours before being admitted to a Covid ward. But overall, first-hand accounts of life in New South Wales’ Covid neighborhoods are scarce.
This is because staff working in the NSW hospital system are unable to speak to the media.
NSW Health’s code of conduct says that all staff – employees, contractors, and even students working in the public hospital system – can only provide official feedback on NSW Health-related matters if they are authorized to do so.
They are also required to “act in a manner that protects and furthers the interests of New South Wales and the particular agency where they work,” and they must “avoid conduct that may discredit the health of New South Wales.”
While there are whistleblower protections in the code, they require the person making the disclosure to follow strict protocols, including reporting to your manager.
In addition to the NSW Health rules, many hospitals have additional codes on how to speak to the media that are built into their employment contracts.
ABC and Sydney Morning Herald photographer Kate Geraghty were able to enter the Covid-19 ward at St Vincent Hospital in central Sydney in July to meet with staff and patients.
But as stress mounts and staff say “they are being pushed to the limit,” the media is being forced to trust staff speaking off the record.
Nine News ran a story in September, interviewing three nurses, with their names changed to protect their identities.
NSW Health has made high-level critical care physicians, nurses and psychologists available at daily government briefings. They have described the heavy workload, but unsurprisingly, with Prime Minister Gladys Berejiklian and Health Minister Brad Hazzard at their side, they have not deviated from the government line that the system is capable of. to cope.
Most of the information on conditions in hospitals comes from trade unions and professional bodies.
AMA NSW President Dr. Danielle McMullen said that speaking on behalf of physicians was part of her organization’s role.
“It is important that clinicians have a voice and can raise concerns when they arise,” he said. “As the largest association of medical professionals representing physicians of all specialties and stages of their careers, the AMA is able to represent the views of our members to the media and government.”
It was paramedics who first reported the long delays at Westmead hospital in August. The first report of ambulances waiting up to eight hours outside of emergencies was on August 6. It happened again on August 16, with frustrated members taking to Twitter.
The president of the Australian Association of Paramedics of New South Wales, Chris Kastelan, told Sky News on August 26 that its members have been forced to wait hours while caring for Covid-infected patients.
“We discovered that we have up to 10 teams of paramedics with Covid-positive patients trapped in the emergency department for about six hours at a time,” he said.
This information is rarely volunteered at NSW Health press conferences.
A spokesperson for NSW Health defended the government’s approach to information and restrictions on people speaking.
“We try to be as open as possible,” they said. “We received around 100 inquiries from the media to the media team. We are only the intermediaries. Most of them go to the public health team or the epidemiology team to be cared for and are in the middle of managing a pandemic ”.
He said health services in the local area, particularly in the regions, were able to provide information to reporters and that some hospitals had their own media teams.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism