COVID-19 patients ‘begging’ for vaccines before being put on life support, Melbourne nurses say

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ABC News report: A senior intensive care nurse has described Victorian patients “begging” to be vaccinated before being put on life support.

Michelle Spence, the ICU nurse unit manager at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, was visibly emotional as she detailed otherwise fit and healthy people deteriorating after contracting COVID-19.

“One of the saddest things I’ve seen over the last few weeks is people wanting the vaccination just before we put them on a life support machine,” she said.

“That is the absolute truth. I’ve seen it myself. They’re begging for the vaccination.

“They’re very young. And once we get to that, we’re about to put them on life support, it is really too late.”

Speaking at the state’s daily coronavirus update, Ms Spence said she had seen people die in the ICU by themselves.”And we hold their hands, while their families have to be at home,” she said.

“And that is absolutely not what this should be about. Loved ones deserve to have their families with them when they die.”

Ms Spence said she had seen fit, healthy people ending up in the ICU, including a tradesman in his 30s.

“The only thing I can tell you that would have changed, and again, this is my opinion, I’ve seen it at the end of the bed, is the fact that he was not vaccinated,” she said.

Jacqui Harper, the nurse unit manager from the Northern Hospital in Epping, said the patients she saw coming into the hospital were “seriously, seriously ill”.

“The clinical deterioration is so sudden. One minute, sitting in a chair, an hour later they could be saying their goodbyes,” she said.

“They find it difficult to breathe, some needing high levels of oxygen, ventilators, and ICU support.

The Northern Hospital, where Ms Harper works, is located in Epping, which is one of the hardest-hit suburbs in Melbourne.

Huge demand and pressure on the hospital’s emergency department have seen large ambulance queues building up during busy periods, an issue called ramping, leading to delays across the ambulance network.

“To it be a nurse right now? Very challenging. Very challenging when the community are not getting vaccinated,” Ms Harper said.

“We have got to do all those other things. We have to do the orthopaedic traumas that come through. All of the other cases we get as well.

” … And being in that epicentre, it’s been hard.

There are 476 people currently in hospital with COVID-19 across Victoria, with 98 of those in intensive care, including 57 people on a ventilator.

Of the people in hospital yesterday, only 5 per cent were fully vaccinated.

As of Sunday afternoon, there were 12 teenage patients in hospital, none of whom were fully vaccinated. Of the 22 patients in their 20s, only one was fully vaccinated.

There were 64 patients in their 30s, only one of whom was fully vaccinated, and 60 patients in their 40s, none of whom were fully vaccinated.Victoria this weekend recorded another record-high daily case count. And the number of new infections is expected to keep climbing until a peak later this month.That peak is projected to happen around the same time the state hits the target of having 70 per cent of the population aged 16 and over fully vaccinated.Ms Spence said healthcare workers were bracing for the fact that when lockdowns lifted at that stage, it would be a great time for the community but the hardest time for the health system.

Both Ms Spence and Ms Harper said their respective wards were at, or nearing, full capacity.

Last year, the state government announced it would provide an extra 4,000 ICU beds across the state.

That promise has not been fulfilled, with ministers and Premier Daniel Andrews saying there has not yet been the demand to justify the beds.

Opposition Leader Matthew Guy today pushed the government to deliver on the promised beds.

“We’ll open beds as we need to,” Mr Andrews said.

“Because ICU beds are so precious, and because you don’t have unlimited numbers of staff, we don’t open ICU beds and then have them empty, with a nurse at the foot of the bed waiting for a patient.”

He said the state was hoping and “working as hard as we can to have less patients, not more”.Ms Spence said at the Royal Melbourne Hospital and across the state, staffing models were being altered and beds were being opened in a staged way, based on need.But she said if people were vaccinated and followed lockdown restrictions, the state would not need the extra 4,000 beds.Ms Harper said there would always be the challenge of burnout and fatigue affecting the workforce, and the chance the system may not cope.”Because COVID’s unpredictable. We don’t know what’s going to decline in the next minute,” she said.”So we might not cope, and we all have emotions too. So dealing with the challenges of people not being able to see their loved ones, us holding their hands for their last dying breath, it’s hard.