Published: 08 May 2020

Ms FORREST (Murchison) - Mr President, I apologise to members, but I want to make a brief contribution on the adjournment.

During debate on the COVID-19 bill last week, I raised some of the unfortunate matters that have been affecting nursing staff. Unfortunately the issue continues. I appeal to all members, and to the Leader in her role with the Government, to encourage a more a proactive approach to standing up for our nursing staff when they are being vilified by members of the public.

I read an article in The Age of 1 May, called 'Not out of the woods yet: health authorities probe 17 coronavirus clusters'. Of course that was in Victoria but I want to read you a couple of sections of this article and then I will make my comments -

A major outbreak at the Albert Road Clinic, a privately run psychiatric facility near the Melbourne CBD, that emerged last Friday was also linked to 16 cases, including multiple patients and staff. The Age has been told an asymptomatic psychiatrist who worked there unknowingly bought the infection in, and an outbreak of the infection continues.

That is how easy it is. It goes on -

Six staff at Frankston Radiology tested positive to COVID-19 in early April, and an 82 year old Victorian woman who was a patient at the radiology clinic later tested positive and died. Meanwhile, at least three coronavirus victims are linked to a cluster in the University of Melbourne -a mathematician from Britain who had the virus but was not yet showing symptoms gave a guest lecture at the university, infecting at least one man. He then visited a colleague, infecting him as well, and that colleague in turn infected his wife.

The article is referring to the Eaglemont Cellars and Wine Bar and the cluster that appeared around there. It goes on to say -

The clusters are a warning sign that the threat of COVID-19 remains, and shows how quickly it can spread, despite flattening the infection curve, Professor Richard Lindley, professor of geriatric medicine at Westmead Clinical School said. 'In nursing homes, people are very close together and infection control is challenging. The virus can be on a surface for a hours or a few days and survive. And the staff have to come in and out of the nursing home,' he said.

Mr President, I read that because it demonstrates how easily this virus spreads, and it can be from asymptomatic people. You have no idea they are carrying it. That is why we need broad community testing.

In terms of the comments been made about medical staff and nursing staff, I made these comments briefly but I will reiterate them.

The medical staff know how hard it is to get additional staff and deciding not to go to work when you are well with no indication of having a virus would not be approved or supported by management. This is generally considered chucking a sickie. To those out there who continue to point their fingers at health workers and vilify them in supermarkets, petrol stations, on social media, on the live feed of the Premier's updates, I ask them to stop. These people are causing enormous mental health challenges and harm to already stressed staff and are destroying the souls of many of our dedicated health workers who give their all.

I want to read a message from a nurse from Launceston who sent this to me. I spoke to this nurse a couple of times on Wednesday -
Today has been hard here in Launceston. The vitriol and nastiness on social media against hospital staff doing their best are deflating and debilitating. We have cared for half of the state's hospitalised positive COVID cases for a while now and they include the COVID patients who were transferred for the North West Regional.

Some of them went to the Mersey and I understand some went to Launceston -

They do not rate a mention, let alone any thanks or appreciation. Now we have a colleague diagnosed positive and apparently we are the worst.

We know from what has happened that nurse did the right thing and all those 10 immediate or close contacts of that nurse tested negative, which is really good news.

I want to give a shout out to all the nurses, particularly at the LGH who are facing the same things that happened potentially at the North West Regional Hospital and the North West Private Hospital. These nurses have been working incredibly hard, working with risk against an invisible and horrendous illness we have never seen before. They are tired but they are not defeated. They have been amazing and they deserve praise.

They also find it very difficult. This is a message I have also received from other nurses seeing the community pass judgment on them when they risk their own lives every day. Every day you go into a COVID ward, you are putting yourself directly in the line of fire even with appropriate PPE. You only have to look around the world to see how many healthcare professionals have died using PPE.

This impact is reaching beyond health professionals. This is an email from a constituent of the Leader actually. Someone in Ulverstone. She said -

I'm not an essential worker of any kind. In fact, I am a retiree quietly living in Ulverstone and doing my best to follow all the current rules. However, even I was beginning to feel very sad, depressed and angry at the amount of vilification that was happening as a result of the NW outbreak. I was personally affected by it and didn't feel I could do much about it -

She was commenting on a post I put on my social media feed -

… you said what I wanted to say, in the right place. I'm also glad it was reported in The Advocate …

Thank you for all the work you do on our behalf …

We need to remember there are far-reaching implications for the words used. Some of these nurses I have talked have been in quarantine for 14 days and some of them have been in quarantine for more than 14 days. I have talked to a lot of them. I get a lot of messages from them. From the Launceston General Hospital as well as the Mersey, North West Regional and Private hospitals and they are feeling really anxious, stressed and particularly undervalued when they read these comments.

As members and leaders in our communities, please stand up for them. We have all made mistakes in our lives, and if errors have been made - we all make errors of judgment at times, but overall these people put themselves right in the line of fire. They deal with patients they do not even know are positive. We know how infectious this virus is. We saw what happened on the medical ward at the Burnie Hospital. It is so infectious. The Age article explains the same.

Please, all of us stand up for our health workers. It is all well and good to put something on your Facebook page, but we have to call out the people who are expressing this hate and vitriol for people, who will not back off. These dedicated, committed, caring and highly skilled individuals do not vilify you or anyone in the public when they see you buying junk food, when they see you buying sugary drinks, when they see you buying cigarettes, they do not verbally abuse you in the street for some of your life choices that make their lives even harder. They do not judge you when you present for treatment because of these choices. So I ask us all to support them, to show respect and encourage everyone else to show respect and call out those who are doing the wrong thing.


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