Date published: 
22 April 2020
Media event date: 
19 April 2020
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

KIERAN GILBERT:

Welcome back to the program. Joining me now is the Chief Nursing Officer Alison McMillan. Alison, thanks very much for your time. On the current trends, these encouraging numbers that we’re seeing in terms of the infection rate, can Australia eliminate this virus? Can we eradicate it?

ALISON MCMILLAN:

I think it’s ambitious to suggest we can eradicate it. It’s a pandemic around the world and so we will always have the potential to reintroduce it if we were to open our borders. I think that you’ve heard all of the commentary over recent weeks is that we are trying to minimise the spread and to flatten our curve so that we can give ourselves time to prepare our health system if this change and a surge in demand appears, and give us time, hopefully for a vaccine to be available to the community and across the world.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Are you surprised, or at least are you pleased with how our country has responded in the face of this pandemic?

ALISON MCMILLAN:

I am incredibly proud of what Australia has been able to achieve. I think what everyone in our community has done has made a massive contribution to this. And I think all our healthcare workers out there would be eternally grateful to the community for the sacrifices they’ve had to make and the major changes they’ve had to make in their lifestyle in order that we’ve been able to see this flattening of the curve.

KIERAN GILBERT:

And in terms of the additional capacity, we’ve heard from the Health Minister daily, almost, in terms of the increased number of ICU beds and ventilators. We hope that they remain idle, many of them, don’t we? But I guess the question is: Is there enough capacity in the event of a spike?

ALISON MCMILLAN:

I think we’ve all heard some of the clichés about hoping for the best but planning for the worst. And there is an enormous amount of activity going on there in acquiring equipment, in training doctors, nurses and the support staff to be able to meet that demand should we require it. There are now almost 20,000 extra nurses in training with intensive care training, so that we have, should we need to use it, we’ve got that expanded capacity across the country.

KIERAN GILBERT:

In terms of that expanded capacity, there’s been talk about bringing additional nursing staff in, students, former nurses. Is that still happening? Is that necessary?

ALISON MCMILLAN:

Yes it is happening. We’ve got multiple ways in which we are trying to expand our nursing workforce. So, we are, as I’ve already said, we are training additional current nurses in the workforce to be able to work in high dependency or in intensive care. We are providing a refresher course for those who may have been out of the workforce for a short period of time, so they’re familiar with how to work in wards in situations across the country. And there is the sub-register where those who have recently retired or moved out of the workforce can return. All of these things are part of building that workforce. The challenge, to some extent we have at the moment, is that while we are doing all this work, actual demand for work is down, and I do acknowledge that there are some nurses out there that are not seeing as much work as they might do because we’re not doing anywhere near the amount of elective surgery we would usually do. So it’s a balance at the moment about planning, building the capability, but managing the current situation as well.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Yeah, I guess that’s right. And the other comparison that’s been made, Alison, internationally, I mean we’ve seen the images from New York, from Italy, from Spain, from the UK, it’s been horrific to watch. But one of the problems has been a lack of personal protection equipment for our frontline medical staff. Do we have that equipment here? Do you feel your nurses, our medical teams have enough of that PPE, as it’s known?

ALISON MCMILLAN:

We’ve heard, certainly, and we know that across the world there is an enormous shortage of this. The production has been ramped up and including, obviously, production in Australia. Again, we’re hearing every day increasing amounts of PPE coming into the country, that goes straight to the frontline to those that need it. And certainly we’ve been working as part of an infection control expert group to make sure that we’re providing very clear advice to health professionals about where and when they should wear the PPE to make sure that we can preserve that supply for when we need it.

KIERAN GILBERT:

Chief Nursing Officer Alison McMillan, I appreciate your time, a very busy time for you, thanks.

ALISON MCMILLAN:

Thank you.

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