Allied health workers asked to fill in as nurses at hospitals feel strain of Omicron surge

Earlier this week the Victorian government said more than 6,000 nurses were furloughed. (Rawpixel: Chanikarn Thongsupa)

Bendigo Health is looking at new ways to support short-staffed departments as it responds to having a significant number of its workforce furloughed with COVID-19.

There are about 50 Bendigo Health staff furloughed each day, approximately 75 per cent of whom are nurses.

The shortage has prompted the hospital to turn to allied health workers for support.

Jacob Moresi, who has been a physiotherapist at Bendigo Health for six years, has recently started doing something he's never done before —working shifts as a nurse.

"I was a little bit nervous to be honest on my first shift," he said.

"We've got a very good working relationship, we work with them every day, so they helped orientate me pretty quickly."

After six years of working as a physiotherapist, Jacob has tried nursing shifts. (ABC Central Victoria: Shannon Schubert)

Bendigo Health has started putting regular call-outs to its allied health workers, asking if they wanted to do extra shifts as nurses.

Mr Moresi jumped at the opportunity to help his colleagues in a time of need.

"Seeing their profession needing a bit of extra assistance and help, I was more than happy to step up and help," he said.

Melinda Charlesworth, acting director of Allied Health, said her staff could not replace nurses and had different training, but were providing skilled help.

"We're not trying to be the nurses and we are not able to do all the things they do.

"It's often that they're [allied health staff are] doing a little bit extra on a weekend or on a day they wouldn't normally work."

Mr Moresi says he now has heightened respect for what nurses do.  (ABC Central Victoria: Shannon Schubert)

More workers doing double shifts

The nursing shifts are usually on top of their usual hours; for some, it turns an 8-hour day into a 13-hour day.

But Mr Moresi isn't worried about burnout.

"We are quite mindful about not doing two [extra] shifts back to back," he said.

"We know work-life balance is very important."

On nursing shifts, allied health workers can do a variety of tasks, like take vital signs and help transport patients.

"[We can] transport someone to their toilet if there are issues with their mobility," Mr Moresi said.

"We can help feed them if they have issues with their upper arms."

Bendigo Health says it has also onboarded nursing graduates early and is redeploying staff to areas of highest need.

"We've also had students and new graduates in all sorts of areas who've stepped in to support as well," Ms Charlesworth said.

Grampians Health says it has had to implement a range of strategies to cope.  (ABC News: Dominic Cansdale)

Shortages all across the system

Nurse-practitioners and doctors aren't the only members of the health workforce who are struggling with staffing.

"It's a challenge for all of our health staffing and the nurses are helping the allied health out as well," Ms Charlesworth said.

"There has been a bit of internal shuffling at times."

Dale Fraser, chief executive of Grampians Health, which covers health services from Ballarat to the SA border, said there was a great deal of pressure on the hospital system in regional areas.

"Hospitals have been working under a code structure for the last 18 months or more now.

"What that has done is it has created an incident management process that ensures we're allowed to be flexible and dynamic to meet changing circumstances as they arise.

"COVID has certainly presented some opportunities where that has been the case.

"That just heightens the importance of people being aware the system is under strain and that they need to be getting their booster shots and wearing masks."

A spokesperson for Horsham Hospital said about 20 staff were currently furloughed.

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