If the latest resurgence of Covid-19 in Australia has taught us one thing, it is that resilience is difficult to maintain. The flexibility to adjust capacity according to demand is still lacking; resources are taken from one area and moved to another but shortages remain – and there is leakage along the way.

Although the picture has been improving in the past few weeks, we continue to see operations being cancelled as we go into December, which is predicted in some states to be the busiest month in hospitals so far. With waiting times already high and increasing, that is a big concern.

We live in unprecedented times, and whether the ‘Great Resignation’ is a myth or not, it is clear that our health service needs more qualified staff if it is to be able to cope with the fluctuating levels of demand we have seen. We desperately need to attract more staff to medical and nursing professions and – more importantly – find ways to retain them.

The reasons for many people leaving their jobs at the moment are many, but typically, healthcare staff have seen their jobs become less enjoyable and less attractive during the pandemic. The fear of contracting the virus, exhaustion from fluctuating and often very high demand, having to argue with patients who won’t wear a mask, the pressure to work longer hours, to take less time off – or to get vaccinated – have left some nursing and care staff feeling their job isn’t worth it anymore.

At the same time, there is investment and also more jobs available as fewer overseas doctors and nurses have arrived, meaning an opportunity with less pressure and better pay may be easier to find. Career opportunities are often secondary though; to attract nurses and care workers we need to empower them to do a good job by not putting them under unreasonable pressure, and make them feel appreciated for the job they are doing. That includes getting paid a fair wage and being able to take more time off to recover, if needed.

But while Covid-19 related fatigue may have been a catalyst for the staffing crisis, it is not new – and neither is the growth in healthcare demand. The whole capacity issue, both in terms of physical capacity and staffing, needs a long-term solution and a proactive approach. Recruitment decisions that are driven by data and insight are more likely to lead to staff retention in the longer term.

Looking slightly further ahead, there are many positives on the horizon. With Brisbane announced as the host city for the 2032 Olympics there is a lot to do, and mobilising the healthcare effort will present a challenge, even without a pandemic to contend with. If nothing else, new construction will receive a boost, with projects in the host region likely to be completed on time so as not to cause disruption during the games.

Healthcare investment levels have also been boosted, and we are seeing something of a boom when it comes to hospital construction and refurbishment programmes. The deadline for complying with the new sterilisation standard is also edging closer, creating some impetus for refurbishment work. As a result, the interest in flexible healthcare solutions that ensure essential services to the community are not disrupted during major projects has also increased.

Lastly, sustainability deserves a mention. The issue has become secondary to the pandemic response, but with the renewed focus on climate action and the recent COP 26 meeting, it should return to the forefront as more new buildings and services are designed and built.


Julian Doherty and Nicola Wortley
Executive Directors, Yellow Folder Research
Guest Editors, Healthcare Spaces Q4 2021