As 新南威尔士 hospitals brace for the peak in admissions and overwhelmed intensive care units next month, the voices of those on the frontline are strangely muted.
Often it is family members, union representatives, professional bodies and patients who are providing a window into what life is like for frontline staff in NSW hospitals.
Journalists trawl Facebook looking for posts from patients and staff about what it’s really like. Occasionally video emerges of patients recounting their experiences, such as the one where a woman described being in a tent for nearly eight hours before she was admitted to a Covid ward. But generally, first-hand accounts of life in NSW’s Covid wards are thin on the ground.
That’s because staff working in the NSW hospital system are restricted from speaking to the media.
The NSW 健康 code of conduct says all staff – employees, contractors and even students working in the public hospital system – are only permitted to provide official comment on matters related to NSW Health if authorised to do so.
They are also required to “act in a way which protects and promotes the interests of NSW and the particular agency where they work”, and they must “avoid conduct that could bring NSW health into disrepute”.
While there are whistleblower protections in the code, these require the person making the disclosure to follow strict protocols, including reporting to their manager.
On top of the NSW Health rules, many hospitals have additional codes about speaking to the media that are built into their employment contracts.
The ABC and the Sydney Morning Herald photographer Kate Geraghty were allowed into the Covid-19 ward at St Vincent’s hospital in central Sydney in July to meet staff and patients.
But as the stress increases, and staff say “they are being pushed to the brink”, media are being forced to rely on staff who talk off the record.
Nine News ran a story in September, interviewing three nurses, with their names changed to protect their identities.
NSW Health has made senior intensive care doctors, nurses and psychologists available at the government’s daily briefings. They have described the heavy workloads, but unsurprisingly – with the premier, Gladys Berejiklian, 和卫生部长, Brad Hazzard, standing beside them – have not strayed from the government line that the system is able to cope.
Most of the information about conditions in the hospitals have comes via unions and professional bodies.
The AMA NSW president, Dr Danielle McMullen, said speaking out on behalf of doctors was part of her organisation’s role.
“It’s important doctors have a voice and are able to raise concerns when they arise,“ 她说. “As the largest medical professional association representing doctors from all specialties and stages of their careers, the AMA is able to represent the views of our members to media and government.”
It was paramedics who first blew the whistle on the long delays at Westmead hospital in August. The first report of ambulances waiting up to eight hours outside emergency was on 6 八月. It happened again on 16 八月, with frustrated members taking to Twitter.
The Australian Paramedics Association NSW president, Chris Kastelan, told Sky News on 26 August that his members have been forced to wait for hours while caring for Covid-infected patients.
“We’re finding we’re having up to 10 paramedic crews with Covid-positive patients stuck in the emergency department for up to around six hours at a time,“ 他说.
This information is rarely volunteered at the NSW Health press conferences.
A spokesperson for NSW Health defended the government’s approach to information and the restrictions on individuals speaking out.
“We try to be as open as possible,” they said. “We get about 100 media inquiries to the media team. We are just the middlemen. Most go to the public health team or the epidemiology team to be answered and they are in the middle of managing a pandemic.”
He said local area health services, particularly in the regions, were able to provide information to reporters and some hospitals had their own media teams.