Royal Australasian College of Surgeons NSW chair Payal Mukherjee has been advocating for the introduction of a mandate for all health workers, highlighting the “huge void” in vaccination rules that leaves vulnerable patients exposed.
“No mandate for all health workers basically means that we can’t protect all our patients, and that’s absolutely unacceptable,” said Dr Mukherjee.
“In healthcare, we can’t socially distance. We have to provide healthcare for everybody, including the immunocompromised and those who are unvaccinated,” said Dr Mukherjee.
Without a universal mandate for all health workers it is “difficult for patients to know where they may be safe and where they could be exposed,” she said.
“Healthcare workers need to be covered by a blanket rule so there is not this heterogeneity for patients when they access healthcare.”
“So many clinicians who have reached out to me, they are in an ethical bind. They want to protect their patients, but there is no way to enforce their staff be vaccinated.”
In Tasmania, Western Australia and Victoria, the mandate extends beyond health practitioners to include non-health workers within medical facilities such as security personnel, cleaners, maintenance, catering and administration staff.
Australian Medical Association NSW president Danielle McMullen said the association supported the mandate stretching to private sector healthcare and administrative staff.
“It’s obviously a health and safety issue for healthcare workers but patients, we think, would also expect that their health staff are vaccinated,” she said.
Rather than encouraging – already high – uptake, Dr McMullen said the move would just mean every health worker in the state was under the same rules.
While the majority of NSW Health’s staff were inoculated with their first shot before the September 30 deadline, with 97.5 per cent of the 140,000-strong workforce receiving a first dose, there is limited data on vaccination in other sectors.
Private providers which operate hospital services reported high coverage, with 98 per cent of healthcare workers employed by Ramsay Health and 99 per cent of Healthscope’s staff vaccinated by the end of last month.
At HCF, which has the majority of its dental and eye clinics in NSW, a survey of clinical staff revealed only 78 per cent had received a first dose by the start of September, slightly behind the 82 per cent of NSW Health staff who were vaccinated by this date.
The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners has put their support behind compulsory COVID-19 vaccination for health workers, with a proposal to include GPs, practice nurses, reception staff and other practice staff in patient-facing roles.
Last week NSW Health confirmed 136 public healthcare workers have resigned directly due to their position on COVID-19 vaccination, but it is unclear how many staff members have been terminated or remain on unpaid leave as a result of the rule.
“While this is disappointing, it is important to note that this represents just 0.1 per cent of the public health system workforce of more than 140,000 people, a NSW Health spokesperson said.
It leaves about 3000 staff whose vaccination status is still being reconciled, with NSW Health “continuing to collect [data] from the local health districts, networks and organisations.”