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‘People will die’: Doctors warn Covid spike fills NSW hospitals

Hospitals in NSW are much closer to capacity due to rising Covid cases than is admitted by officials, doctors and nurses warn, with one saying the system has “never been this bad”.

A senior specialist said “even the most routine urgent treatment” has already been canceled to divert resources to Covid. “People will die,” he said.

The state’s chief health officer, Kerry Chant, reiterated Monday that the health system remained “very well placed” to cope with rising hospital admissions. The number of patients in intensive care units (ICU) rose 14% in the 24 hours to 8pm on another day from more than 20,000 new Covid cases in NSW.

But privately, doctors and nurses who are not authorized to speak in public say the health system is nearly full.

“There’s no way the health system will be able to handle it,” said the senior specialist. “It’s never been this bad.”

The senior physician said the focus on staff shortages ignored the problem that all major hospitals in the state were rapidly approaching bed capacity. At the current rate, “every single bed will be for Covid patients only…no matter how many staff they call back”.

A nurse at a major hospital, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that while her center still had extra beds, there were “huge gaps in staffing levels”.

Lung and heart transplant patients were among those not getting the care they would have received just two years ago, said the nurse with nearly a decade of experience.

“People get really unwell,” she said. “They stay 40, 50, 60 hours” in emergency rooms while waiting for capacity to become available.

Liverpool Hospital’s emergency department in the Clinical Services Building. On Monday, the patients ended up on the street. Photo: Peter Hannam/The Guardian

“We don’t have enough personnel to disperse,” the nurse said. “It just brushed under the floor…we’re shocked.”

Liverpool Hospital, one of Sydney’s main medical centers in the southwest of the city, already has five general wards and two IC wards reserved for Covid patients.

The emergency room’s waiting room on Monday was packed with potential patients walking out onto the street, with a young woman vomiting into a plastic bag while waiting to be seen.

Staff were not allowed to talk to the media. Guardian Australia was told that no hospital official would comment and was politely asked to leave the hospital grounds.

Among those waiting in the 30°C heat, however, was a mother and her two daughters from Padstow Heights, about 10 miles from Liverpool.

One daughter had Covid symptoms and the trio had been waiting outside the emergency department for more than an hour to see a doctor. They had already tried unsuccessfully to get tested on three other public sites.

Alex Kanazir had waited four hours by early afternoon to get his 70-year-old mother treated for stomach pain. A month earlier, when his mother broke her arm, they had waited only an hour for her to be admitted and had spent five days in a ward.

A concern for those facing lengthy delays has been the added risk of contracting Covid even if that wasn’t the reason for the visit.

“It’s catch-22,” Kanazir said, adding emergency department visitors who had been warned there had already been at least one Covid case that morning.

Hospital emergencies should ideally wait no more than four hours before being moved to the appropriate wards. The current wait could be a day or more, one employee said.

The nurse from another major hospital said the fatigue of general staff was increasing and it was inevitable that many experienced health workers would leave the industry.

“I think we will see massive layoffs,” she said. “This is not the way the health system should work.”