More than 17,000 nurses have rushed to sign up for online courses to enable them to work in intensive care units, and 3000 more have moved to re-register in the workforce as part of the response to coronavirus.
Australia's chief nursing and midwifery officer Allison McMillan says the health sector has been working on its preparations for the pandemic since the first signs of infections in China in January, with existing pandemic plans originally made for influenza adjusted to cope with the new respiratory virus.
Speaking to Australian Community Media, Ms McMillan said the last few months have seen major disruptions to normal business for everyone in the health sector.
Preparations from the federal and state and territory health systems have focused both on public education strategies around hygiene and physical distancing to prevent the health system being overwhelmed, as well as preparing for the surge in cases.
There's been "enormous interest," in the extra training to ensure former nurses can return to the health workforce and comply with recency of practice requirements, Ms McMillan said.
Since the government announced on April 1 online training would be made available to nurses to up-skill for intensive care work, almost all of the 20,000 places available have been applied for.
"We had to stop taking registrations," Ms McMillan said, explaining efforts were being made to ensure the training was being done where it was needed most and spread right across the country.
"We need to make sure we have the right distribution across the country, particularly with a focus on regional and rural."
Once further analysis has been done, remaining places will be prioritised for areas where there is the most need.
"That gives you some indication of the willingness of nurses to step forward and work in what is an extremely challenging environment," she said.
The extremely challenging environment faced by those professionals doesn't just relate to their more complicated workloads throughout their shifts, but also keeping track of the updated advice and information about coronavirus that comes out as quickly as scientific discoveries are being made.
"There's just the enormous wealth of information that's out there, that as a health professional we need to keep in front of," Ms McMillan said.
Health professionals are also receiving training in how to properly use personal protective equipment, which is being distributed through the National Medical Stockpile.
While there has been significant focus on well-known medical professionals, Ms McMillan said Australians should remember the health sector includes a wide range of people.
"Our health system is supported by the the health professionals we know and love - the doctors, the nurses, the physios all of those things - but there's a huge volume of people who support those services: cleaners, people who work in catering, people who work behind the scenes, they are out there as well," she said.
"Sometimes we forget them in this, we think about nurses and midwives and doctors but we forget all the vitally important people who support the work they do."
Ms McMillan started in the chief nursing and midwifery officer role in November, and has so far experienced the devastating bushfire season and now the coronavirus pandemic.
As a member of the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, she is one of the voices providing advice to the prime minister, health minister and state and territory leaders.
There have been many questions about how Australians can best support healthcare workers in the fight against coronavirus and Ms McMillan said people needed to respect the difficult jobs being done and said it was unfortunate that she needed to remind people that abusing healthcare professionals was not ok.
Ms McMillan said it was important for those working on the frontline to know they weren't alone, and there was help and support for them if they needed it, but the the message for everyone else was simple.
"The first thing to do is, as we've been told to do, which is stay home, other than for the reasons we outline every day on the advertisements," she said.
"Follow and listen to the instructions ... so that our world-class health system can remain a world-class health system."
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