Five thousand extra nurses must be deployed to NSW hospitals to support a health system already bursting at the seams, the NSW Nurses and Midwives' Association says.
Some of those nurses must be stationed at Maitland and John Hunter hospitals to help overworked staff cope with an inevitable influx of Coronavirus patients.
On top of that, the association wants nurse to patient ratios enforced in the emergency department and in wards to help prevent burnout.
Hunter New England Health said it would employ extra casual winter nursing staff but did not reveal how many would be given jobs or where they would work.
Last year NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian promised to put an extra 5000 nurses and midwives into the health system within the next four years. The association claims there are plenty of trained nurses who are ready to work and the government could deliver that injection now.
A 5.6 per cent spike in the number of patients presenting at Maitland Hospital emergency department between October and December 2019 - compared with the same period in 2018, has added to the association's call for action.
"The Bureau of Health Information shows presentations to hospital have been going up, but, the level of staffing has not done the same," the association's Lower Hunter organiser Emily Suvaal said.
"Members are feeling really under-resourced and unsupported amid this increasing pressure."
Hunter New England Local Health District COVID-19 Medical Controller Dr Paul Craven said a pandemic plan, which had been "reviewed and revised" was in place to respond.
"We have assessed equipment and Intensive Care Unit (ICU) capacity across the District and have plans to surge when we need to," he said.
Dr Craven said it was likely the Coronavirus would combine with the flu season.
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"With convergence with the flu season likely, the district has commenced recruitment of additional winter nursing casual staff," he said.
The government has given NSW Health $700 million to help it cope with the pandemic. This money will be used to double ICU capacity, buy medical equipment - including extra ventilators, start acute respiratory clinics, prepare for extra COVID-19 testing and bring forward elective surgeries to private hospitals.
That funding is part of a $2.3 billion COVID-19 stimulus package.
There were 26 cases of Coronavirus in the Hunter on Sunday afternoon.
Six of those cases were confirmed on Saturday. Among them were two people who had travelled on the Ruby Princess cruise ship, which docked in Sydney last week.
There are more than 1000 cases across the country.
More information: Call the Coronavirus hotline on 1800 020 080.
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