A high-profile politician’s attempt to refute claims of a health crisis in Australia’s hospital system has spectacularly backfired.
NSW Regional Health Minister Bronnie Taylor has spent the past two days locked in an escalating Twitter spat with Opposition leader Chris Minns.
Mr Minns posted a compelling photo of a woman in a wheelchair lining up to be treated in a tent outside a NSW hospital emergency ward, rugged up against the freezing cold.
Ms Taylor fired back with her own tweet saying the tents were not overflow but for screening patients for Covid before they went inside, as was ‘global standard’, with photos of four overseas hospitals to prove it.
However, three of the examples she used were of hospitals so overwhelmed with Covid patients they had no beds, and another was a queue for vaccines.
NSW Opposition Leader Chris Minns posted a photo of a woman in a wheelchair lining up to be treated in a tent outside a NSW hospital ER, rugged up against the freezing cold
One showed huge tents set up by NATO outside Centre Hospitalier du Luxembourg in April 2020 to increase its capacity by 1,200sqm with beds for 200 Covid patients.
Another was a tent outside Cremona Hospital in Italy in March 2020, when the country’s north was one of the worst-hit places in the world.
More than 15 million people were in one of the harshest lockdowns of the entire pandemic and 463 already dead at the time.
A third was a big white tent outside the Queen’s Medical Center in West Oahu, Hawaii, in August 2021 after three times its ER capacity showed up at once – many sick with Covid.
Finally, a wall of tents outside St Thomas’ Hospital in London was to accommodate a huge line of people waiting to get Covid booster shots last December.
Ms Taylor admitted she should have used different photos to make her point, but said she was trying to explain that the tents at NSW hospitals were used for Covid screening, not to treat patients.
One showed huge tents set up by NATO outside Centre Hospitalier du Luxembourg in April 2020 to increase its capacity by 1,200sqm with beds for 200 Covid patients
Another was a tent outside Cremona Hospital in Italy in March 2020, when the country’s north was one of the worst-hit places in the world
Mr Minns claimed the photo he posted showed the reality of NSW emergency departments was patients stuck outside in tents in winter.
‘Not because of staff who are working through extraordinary conditions. But because we have a government who for over a decade has failed,’ he wrote.
‘Failed to listen to it’s own workforce crying out for more support. And failed to invest in this critical area.
‘Patients heading to hospital in their time of need deserve better. NSW deserves better.’
Ms Taylor accused the opposition leader of ‘playing politics’ and insisted using tents was in line with World Health Organisation guidelines.
‘Tents are a global standard in Covid screening and patient safety. It’s false to suggest this is a failure of the health system,’ she wrote.
‘Don’t play politics with health, Chris. Be better. Happy to brief you on how the system works.’
Labor called Ms Taylor’s tweet ironic as she was defending against a claim that NSW hospitals were in crisis using photos of hospitals that actually were in crisis.
Finally, a wall of tents outside St Thomas’ Hospital in London was to accommodate a huge line of people waiting to get Covid booster shots last December
Mr Minns doubled down on Wednesday night by posting a video of himself outside Canterbury Hospital in southwest Sydney at 8.30pm, complaining the ED was overflowing.
He pointed out tents in the background he claimed were being used as a makeshift waiting room as hospitals were too overworked from understaffing.
‘There’s a full emergency department behind me, as you can see the tent in the foreground with people waiting there to be triaged by the nurses,’ he said.
‘They tell me it’s a full house inside this evening. Obviously this is an example of an overworked, very tough emergency department right now.’
He added in the video caption: ‘This is what it’s like in NSW Hospitals right now. Four in 10 patients not being treated in time. And health workers run off their feet.’
However, according to Ms Taylor, the hospital’s ED at that time was not full, and the patients in the tents were being pre-screened for Covid before they moved inside for treatment.
Ms Taylor slammed Mr Minns for both the photo of the woman in the wheelchair, and his video, demanding he apologise for misleading the public.
‘Chris Minns is not only deliberately misleading the people of our state but undermining their confidence in our health system. As a nurse, I’m appalled,’ she said.
‘These screening tents are used at hospitals across the state, country and world. He would know this if he spent more than a few minutes for social snaps outside our hospitals.’
Ms Taylor said there were 35 patients overall, including 10 patients in the waiting room and four symptomatic patients awaiting screening results in the tent, and no ambulances waiting to transfer patients.
Almost 95 per cent of patients who arrived by ambulance were handed over to hospital staff within half an hour. The NSW Health target is 90 per cent.
‘Overall, the timeliness of care provided to ED patients was excellent in challenging circumstances and a credit to all who work there,’ she said.
‘The Labor leader is showing both a lack of integrity and maturity in effectively attacking our hardworking NSW hospital workers who are trying to be innovative in service delivery to relieve the pressures on our hospital system.
‘This is not the first time Mr Minns has done this, and it needs to stop.
‘Patients, staff and the NSW community deserve better than this hypocrisy and political point-scoring from someone who has now clearly stamped himself as unworthy of leading the Labor party, let alone the state.’
Medical workers claim there are chronic staff shortages at NSW hospitals and staged several walk outs and protests.
The Blacktown and Westmead hospital emergency services nurses staged a walk-out on Monday morning after completing their shifts to protest a lack of safe nurse-to-patient ratios and ‘severe understaffing’ at the EDs.
The rallies – not classified as strike action – were part of a continued effort by western Sydney nurses to fix understaffing they said led to 18-hour days and long shifts without breaks, worsened by the coronavirus pandemic.
The Blacktown and Westmead hospital emergency services nurses staged a walk-out on Monday morning after completing their shifts to protest a lack of safe nurse-to-patient ratios and ‘severe understaffing’ at the EDs
NSW nurses union general secretary Brett Holmes said with flu and Covid presentations on the rise, the two EDs were regularly overwhelmed and ‘urgent measures’ had not been taken by authorities to help combat the issues.
‘Gauging the level of frustration and despair it’s quite possible that other branches will look at this and consider whether they need to to also take similar action,’ Mr Holmes told AAP.
‘There’s no doubt that there’s similar experiences and feelings across the rest of the health system, whether our members choose to follow the same pattern or do something different… I just have to wait and see.’
The NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association said 21 night duty nurses walked out at Blacktown hospital, while about 50 rallied at Westmead.
The demonstration comes after about 60 ICU nurses rallied at Westmead hospital over staffing shortages in February.
Premier Dominic Perrottet said flu season was putting extra strain on hospitals, admitting the health system nationwide was ‘under enormous pressure’.
‘It’s been a very difficult time with Covid over the past few years… But we’ve invested record amounts to get people through this difficult time,’ he said.
He said his administration was working closely with the federal government ‘to make sure we get better systems in place to put downward pressure on our public hospitals’.
The rallies were part of a continued effort by western Sydney nurses to fix understaffing they said led to 18-hour days and long shifts without breaks, worsened by the pandemic
The state government previously said it is aware of pressures on nurses and has met with the union to address their concerns.
Mr Minns said the Perrottet Government failed to adequately staff hospitals, leading to one in 10 patients leaving EDs because of delays.
‘This has now led to this situation where we have a crisis on our hands in hospitals right across NSW, especially in western Sydney,’ he said.
‘This is something that the government has refused to talk about.’
Additional reporting by Australian Associated Press.
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