Medical workforce returning from COVID-19 testing not expected to fill dire staff shortages

A health official says regional health workforce shortages will not be alleviated by staff returning from their PCR testing sites, where testing is significantly reduced.

The health sector in South Australia is struggling to attract and retain workers to provide essential medical services in an even greater challenge in the regions.

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The number of COVID-19 cases peaked in January, April and July this year and another spike is expected in November.

A lull in cases and reduced demand for swabs has reduced working hours at some testing sites, allowing health workers to return to other assignments.

But Riverland Mallee Coorong Local Health Network (LHN) CEO Wayne Champion said there were still enough workers to fill the employment gaps.

“Between testing, vaccination and responding to COVID within our health services, it still takes up a significant number of hours of unbudgeted and unfunded staff time,” he said.

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Wayne Champion says there is still a struggle to fill workforce gaps.(ABC Riverland: Anita Ward)

Two or three medical personnel are needed to operate the Bree drive-through test site located at Riverland General Hospital, which has recently scaled back its hours.

“Registered nurses will be included in other shifts and fill vacancies located elsewhere in the service,” said Mr. Champion.

“Some of them are students and will go back to their studies.

But it doesn’t change the rules of the game in terms of our manpower shortage.

Cars lined up outside for COVID-19 drive-thru testing, with blue skies in the background and brown dirt in the foreground.
The COVID-19 testing site in Riverland is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.(ABC Riverland: Sophie Landau)

The Minister of Health and Welfare, Chris Becton, said that vehicle PCR testing sites remain an important part of the public health response to COVID-19.

“In our area, I have been informed that the majority of sites are staffed by LHN staff who will return to work within the hospital system – such as nurses – if they are no longer needed in motor clinics,” he said.

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LHN is increasing its scholarship programs and targeting college graduates in an effort to address staffing shortages.

“We have to get agency offices, nurses, health workers and allied health workers to fill in the gaps all the time, as any rural health services do right now,” he said.

“It’s a constant struggle and it’s more difficult in smaller locations like Pinnaroo, Lameroo and Karoonda, which are farther away from the larger centers, than they are in Riverland or Murray Bridge.

“There has been a slight increase in the employment of midwives recently, but they have not been able to fill the roster and reopen maternity services at Waikiri Hospital.”

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