From Rev Dr John Squires
Presbytery Minister - Wellbeing
I received a very challenging comment in a recent communication with someone, about the situation we are facing in our health care system because of the rise of cases in the current pandemic.
The comment was about how little we seem to be thinking about the increased expectations we are loading onto medical and healthcare professionals. This is a group that has been declining in numbers in recent times, yet the people working in this sector are being asked to take on more responsibilities in their jobs.
As the COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us, health workers are of primary importance to any healthcare system. In Australia, we take for granted that everyone will have access to quality healthcare. According to data from the World Health Organisation (WHO), health workers represent less than 3% of the population of most countries, and less than 2% in low-income and middle-income countries.
An article in The Lancet reports the sobering fact that "14% of the COVID-19 cases reported to WHO occurred among health workers, indicating that they are at greater risk of infection than the general population." The article continues, "Besides their proximity to potentially infected people, health workers have been asked to work in extraordinary and extremely challenging conditions, which introduced new occupational health hazards and placed them at higher risk of disease and even death. Data availability is limited, but an Amnesty International report, published in September, stated that 7000 health workers have died from COVID-19 worldwide in the attempt to help others.”
I was watching the show Ambulance recently, and learnt that at the height of the second wave in the UK earlier this year, 40% of ambulance staff in Scotland were infected and quarantined. Calls from Scotland were being received in ambulance centres in the Midlands of England. That must have been incredibly stressful for those on the phones, dealing with calls from hundreds of miles away
A recent study from the Victoria and Monash Universities reports, “70.9 per cent of our sample of 7846 health workers reported emotional exhaustion and 40 per cent had moderate to severe symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Anecdotally in their free text responses, many healthcare workers wrote about leaving the workforce – young people at the beginning of their careers were rethinking their choices; older, experienced specialists or senior staff were considering early retirement. Others were wanting to stay in healthcare, but not at the front line.” (See report in The Saturday Paper for September 25—October 1, 2021)
It's a reply concerning situation.
What can we do to support those who are spending their working hours (in many cases, their whole waking hours) in caring for people who are ill and dying because of COVID-19?
Well, as people of faith, we can pray for them: that they will find strength to continue on, that family and friends who are close them will support them as they work to care for others.
We can check in regularly with anyone whom we know, who is working in the healthcare sector and is coming into contact with infected people, and offer them a friendly, caring, listening ear. We can ask them if there is anything practical that we can do to assist them at this stressful time.
We can get vaccinated. That makes many contributions to the overall health of society, and thus to the health and wellbeing of medical and nursing professionals. There are personal benefits from being vaccinated. Vaccination lessens the time that a person who becomes infected, remains infected. Being vaccinated lessens the likelihood that an infected person would be hospitalised, or even die, if their situation became serious. A person who is vaccinated carries the viral load for less days than an unvaccinated person. A person who is vaccinated does not get as unwell as an unvaccinated person.
There are also benefits for the community as a whole from vaccination. In general, being vaccinated reduces the likelihood that an infected person will infect other people with whom they come into contact. Being vaccinated lessens the rate of spread of the virus through the community. And a really important reason for getting vaccinated is that this course of action lessens the likelihood that a variant strain will develop and spread through the community—and beyond. High rates of vaccination will reduce the pool of people amongst whom a new variant of the virus can develop, and then spread. It is a contribution to the common good.
We can do other things to support our frontline health workers. We can encourage our governments to allocate more funding to healthcare, right through the system. We need to have workers who have access to the full array of PPE (personal protective equipment) on a regular basis. We need to have hospitals staffed with ICU equipment and ventilators. We need to have nurses trained to operate this equipment, and doctors available to work in ICU settings. We can lobby our local members to ensure that they are aware of our desire for funding for the training of personnel, and the machinery and equipment that is needed, for us to continue to care for the unwell and the dying in our society.
There are many people who are facing difficult situations in this current pandemic. Our healthcare workers need our consideration and support as they serve the wider community. They are amongst the neighbours whom Jesus instructed us to love. Let’s reach out and offer them that support.