Over the last few months, we have watched confronting news reports about a “tsunami” in the form of a deadly virus that was bound for our Great Southern Land. Whilst some people were preparing by stocking up on toilet rolls and tissues, hospitals went into overdrive, planning for the worst-case scenario. It quickly became apparent that the need for adequately trained staff was imperative. Agency healthcare staff have helped fill this void by not only supporting the scaling and expansion of services, as well as the roll-out of clinical trials and projects. Contingency staff are a special group of healthcare workers who’s contribution during this pandemic cannot be understated. This post explores 9 essential benefits of utilising contingency / agency staff during COVID-19.
1. Scale-up and expansion of services
As we’ve all seen on the frightening news reports, primarily from overseas hospitals, Australia was nowhere near ready to handle what was expected to hit. So begin planning for what may unfortunately arrive. This preparation took the form of the creation of COVID-19 specific wards, screening clinics for both staff and patients and the dividing of Emergency Departments into “hot” and “cold” zones to ensure patient safety. Whilst these changes were required so we were ready for the potentially overwhelming volume of presentations, they were redundant without adequate trained staff to run them. That’s where agency staff come into play. While permanent staff may be able to fill the void initially, agency staff are able to help drive the desired changes, adapt to quickly changing environments and help expand and develop health services to cater for the increased presentations.
2. Provide short term & long term staffing solutions
Have you ever considered that some of the agency staff members who come and go from your ward / unit / organisation during this pandemic may just be the perfect person to not only fill staffing deficits immediately but to compliment your workforce moving forward? I have worked with some unbelievably talented agency nurses who I’ve tried to convince to apply for permanent hours. Some battles I’ve won, others I’ve lost. Great staff may be right under your nose, so don’t be blind to them and take a look.
3. Skilled and adaptable staff
Those who work for an agency such as VNS, have had the opportunity to witness how different hospitals, medical centres and community health centres have planned and dealt with COVID-19. They have seen what has worked in some organisations, whilst at the same time gaining a better understanding of why a particular idea or change isn’t working on other wards / units. With this key information, agency staff are able to give feedback to unit managers as an alternative to better patient flow and efficiency. “Picking the brain” of an agency nurse may be the perspective you’ve been missing.
4. Ability to work in a variety of clinical areas to meet the demand
In the initial stages of COVID-19, the goalposts continued to change. One day, for example in my workplace, the demand was to open a staff screening clinic, whilst on the very next day plans needed to be established to build an entire new ED specifically for those who presented with respiratory issues. Agency nurses have been the backbone of supporting this fluctuating landscape to ensure that the manpower was there to meet the demands from our staff and the wider community.
5. Contingency staff available for project work
If there is one thing I’ve learned through this pandemic it’s the realisation that things may not be perfect. Ideas and projects may become obsolete with time, forcing changes to be made yet again. Whilst it can be incredibly frustrating for those involved, agency staff members can “test” these ideas, provide suggestions on projects, feeding back potential changes for better flow and efficiency. Fresh eyes can give the developing body a new perspective to help the wider multidisciplinary team.
6. Patient assessment and a better patient experience
If you were to present to a hospital or your local GP with suspected COVID-19 symptoms seeking testing, you’d like to be seen in a timely manner right? Agency staff can improve the patient experience by helping to fill the need for an increased staffing workforce, quickly. They can seamlessly fill the gaps where a sudden increase in staff is required, taking the stress out of asking permanent staff to do overtime or extended hours.
7. Clinical trials and research studies
What is the thing which drives us to make new policies and alter practices within healthcare? Research. But what do we need to lead these clinical trials? People. Agency or contingency staff members are able to help facilitate the undertaking of clinical trials to better patient and staff outcomes. The added advantage though of using agency staff rather than volunteers without a medical background is that the feedback will likely be specific and targeted, therefore, a better resource moving forward.
8. Annual leave, sick leave or long service leave relief
Though permanent staff members cannot travel overseas or even interstate due to isolation restrictions, some permanent staff members simply need a break and time away. They need a time out from wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) and they certainly need a few days to rest a recoup. This gap in the nursing workforce can be filled within minutes by keen, passionate and talented agency nurses. All you need to do is say the word and the shift will be filled.
9. Specialist clinic staff
Though COVID-19 has distracted the public from pretty much every other health concern, we know people are still recovering from horrific car accidents in rehabilitation centres, kids are still being diagnosed with cancer and new mums are still welcoming little people or persons into the world. These tasks require specialist care which specific agency nursing staff are able to provide. If your nursing resources are looking a little grim due to the added complexities of COVID-19, remember agency nurses are there for you.
Though 2020 is throwing us a curveball, agency nurses can help ease the pressure and stress of providing adequate patient care during this pandemic.
Registered Nurse | Clinical Nurse Educator - Emergency
Co-founder The Other Shift