Tasmanian Senator Jacquie Lambi has called for Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel to plug staff shortages in the country’s health workforce caused by surging COVID-19 cases, increased hospitalisations, and vaccine mandates.
“Whether it is in a war—conventional or against Omicron or anything else—I don’t understand why you have a defence force sitting there while you aren’t doing what you need to do, and get them on the ground right now,” she told Nine’s Today program.
This comes as around 20 ADF personnel have been deployed to drive ambulances and assist paramedics at the request of Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews after his state declared a code brown for Melbourne’s metropolitan hospitals and some regional centres, as the Omicron variant of the novel coronavirus creates a critical staff shortage in multiple industries.
The ADF is sending additional staff and planners to support those efforts, and the federal government will provide public service staff to assist triple zero emergency call centres.
The code brown will mean that staff will have their leave cancelled, and elective surgeries will be postponed in preparation for surging cases and increased demand on the health system.
The Victorian department of health did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Its website informs the press that it won’t respond to COVID-19-related enquiries about the “number of cases and deaths,” “Australia vs international response,” “medical treatment/vaccine for coronavirus,” or “impact on health services.”
However, on Wednesday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the ADF was not a shadow workforce, noting that public service staff may also sometimes assist in plugging holes left by staff shortages.
“There aren’t magic workforces that can just turn up and provide the sort of care that you need in healthcare,” Morrison told reporters in Canberra.
“You need to have people who are trained. And that is true also in aged care.
“There is not some shadow workforce that sits in the defence forces or somewhere else that can automatically just replace furloughed staff because they have COVID,” he said.
Morrison defended the federal governments’ preparedness when questioned about the pressures on the health systems in various states due to the Omicron wave.
“The private hospital agreement that we put in place at the start of the pandemic, that is now delivering 100,000 extra health care staff, including 57,000 nurses to support our public hospital system and aged care,” he said. “That’s what preparation is, we put that in place in 2020, and we have drawn on it consistently to be able to draw more workforce in.”