Victoria’s health system is facing a staff burnout crisis after two torrid years of the COVID-19 pandemic, with a top doctor quitting in protest.
Outgoing Royal Australasian College of Physicians president John Wilson has departed Melbourne’s Alfred hospital, citing compromised standard of care in the public health sector.
Professor Wilson, who headed The Alfred’s treatment of patients with lung disorders, said governments and funding agencies had not listened to concerns of those at the coalface.
“I held my breath for as long as I could and, I’m sorry, someone had to make a stand,” he told reporters on Thursday.
“David Morrison, the head of the army, once said ‘The standard you walk past is the standard you accept’. I’m sorry. I don’t accept that standard.”
It comes after emergency physician and former Australian Medical Association president Dr Stephen Parnis last week cited burnout for taking three months leave.
An RACP survey released in November last year found 87 per cent of its members were worried about burnout, a statistic Prof Wilson labelled “outrageous”.
“These members of our college should be proud of the work that they do,” he said.
“They should not be thinking about burnout, (not) thinking about early retirement, resignation or moving to other positions.”
Prof Wilson admitted he wasn’t sure whether he was burnt out, and said that was part of the problem.
“If you don’t know when you’re burnt out, you could be working in a very dangerous situation,” he said.
He is calling for a “crisis summit” between doctors, nurses, politicians and government health agencies to improve care standards.
Health Minister Martin Foley said the government would work with the colleges and AMA “to pick up the processes that encourage more safe, professional use of existing resources” and recruit more staff.
“I dispute that that’s not happening right now. It is happening but it needs to happen at an even greater level,” he said.
The state budget, delivered last week, included a commitment to train and hire 7000 healthcare workers as part of a $12 billion health pledge.
Mr Foley has urged the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority and federal immigration authorities to speed up clearance processes for international health workers.
“We have a system where we fast-track, rightly, agricultural workers but we can’t fast-track medical professionals,” he said.
“Whoever forms government after the 21st of May must unblock that pipeline as soon as possible.”
Even if that happens, Professor Wilson questioned the ethics of poaching doctors from countries facing their own healthcare problems and said it would take time for them to meet Australian training and accreditation standards.
“That won’t happen overnight.”