Fewer than 0.1% of New South Wales health staff have resigned as a result of Covid-19 vaccination mandates, contradicting claims that opposition to the jab would lead to staff shortages.
On Friday, the NSW health department confirmed that as of the beginning of October, only 136 staff members employed across the state had resigned “due to their position on Covid-19 vaccination”.
“While this is disappointing, it is important to note that this represents just 0.1% of the public health system workforce of more than 140,000 people,” a spokeswoman for the department said.
The figure stands in stark contrast to the narrative pushed by anti-vaccination groups, which in recent weeks have stepped up campaigns aiming to encourage protests aimed at opposition to mandatory jabs.
After anti-lockdown and vaccination protests swept through Melbourne last month, it was widely reported by some media that nurses and other health staff planned to join the demonstrations.
Small protests were held in Melbourne, while a small number of unvaccinated staff – including the deputy mayor of the Snowy Valleys Council, a paramedic – are also seeking to challenge vaccination mandates in the NSW supreme court.
But according to Brett Holmes, the general secretary of the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association, opposition to mandates among staff have been overblown. Holmes said that while a small number of his members had resigned after the mandate, feedback suggested many of those were leaving the industry because of what he called “pandemic fatigue”.
But Holmes is concerned about staff shortages. In northern NSW, often held up as a stronghold of vaccine hesitancy, he said shortages had been a problem long before the pandemic.
On Friday he said there were fears a spike in Covid-19 hospitalisations after the state begins to re-open from Monday could overwhelm the health system in the state’s north thanks to a glut of unfilled roles.
Holmes said there are about 163 vacant fulltime equivalent positions across northern NSW’s public health system, a “widespread” shortage which had been made worse by what he called “pandemic fatigue”.
“Our members at Lismore, Tweed, Grafton and the surrounding regions are all anxious about what lies ahead, given they have a very limited casual or agency pool to draw from,” he said.
“This is taking a toll on the remaining nursing staff, who often feel compelled to keep accepting overtime requests.”
There are concerns about localised shortages caused by the 30 September first dose deadline however. In northern NSW, sources told the Guardian that vaccine supply issues had led to large numbers of staff in some areas being placed on leave.
One health worker based in Lithgow showed the Guardian several screenshots asking nurses to work double shifts since 30 September.
Though the source said that was not unusual, anecdotal reports suggested the strain on staff since the 30 September deadline had increased.
NSW Health said it was unclear how many workers remained stood down, and how many of those would eventually resign.
“With respect to the final number of people who can no longer work with NNSWLHD as they decided not to be vaccinated against Covid-19, this will become clear in the coming weeks,” a spokeswoman said.
“This is because not all these people will resign due to their views, and each person’s particular circumstances need to be worked through and due process needs to be applied to all employees.”