Guest post By Bernie Ryan
‘Sally- she is cleaning now, and Niki’s making honey,
Bec is working on the phones, and Liz is trading money.
Poor Jeff, he lost his life, oh well, and Ellen’s lost her mind.
Some wonder where we all are now? You left us all behind’
- Mel Nic, Former Registered Nurse WA. -
“Don’t go near him, we think he’s a got weapon”.
It was the middle of a scorching afternoon when Dave Cotsios’ radio crackled calling him and his partner to a siege in the country NSW city of Wagga Wagga.
Cotsios arrived to find a man, likely in his forties, sitting in the middle of his suburban front lawn surrounded by about a dozen police. While blue lights flashed across cracked cement, two of the police officers stood waiting for a negotiator with their handguns drawn.
Cotsios had been filling in at Wagga Wagga on his day off from his regular position as Station Officer at Batlow, over an hour away. As the town’s only Intensive Care Paramedic (ICP) this 60-year-old, 40-year veteran of the NSW Ambulance Service was often called upon to relieve in other areas.
“Let me have a word with him,” said Cotsios to the much younger police officers. He edged his 5’7” frame toward a stranger who looked at least a foot taller.
“What’s the problem, mate?” Cotsios said, “Let’s you and me sit here for a while and fix this shit up”.
The man relaxed.
To the police, he was a dangerous and aggressive man. After decades on the job, Cotsios had learned to see people differently.
As the two men sat on the lawn and talked, the police with their guns and the silent staring neighbors blurred into the background.
Cotsios listened while the man softened and cried, recounting that he had ‘busted some things in the house’ upon discovering that his wife had been ‘playing up’.
She had then called the police.
When they were done, Cotsios informed the police that the man would stand up slowly to show he was unarmed. The man then agreed to travel with Cotsios to the hospital to talk to someone.
Dave Cotsios was born in Maroubra in 1957, with his first day on the road as an NSW Ambulance officer coinciding with his 21st birthday. By the time Cotsios transferred to rural Batlow in 1995, he was already the recipient of a State Emergency Service Award. Cotsios and his partner had treated a stabbing victim in Potts Point who had climbed up onto a steep sloping roof to flee his assailant. “It was the middle of the night,” he says. “He was bleeding out via multiple stab wounds. We treated him right there on the roof.”
Cotsios may well be the longest serving ICP in the NSW Ambulance Service. He holds their highest skill-set available.
An ICP is qualified to perform emergency interventions, including placing a tube into a patient’s larynx to protect their airway. This is the gold standard of airway care in a non-breathing unconscious patient.
“It’s over an hour from Batlow to the closest major hospital in Wagga Wagga,” Cotsios says. “Without a properly protected airway, an unconscious non breathing patient could die.”
However, December 15, 2021, was Cotsios’ last official day of employment.
“I’m so sorry, Dave,” the woman had said as she handed a letter over the counter.
“And that was it,” Cotsios recalls. “I walked out of the station with that letter, ten days before Christmas. That’s how my 44-year career finished.”
“And all over a vaccine that I didn’t need, and which does not stop people catching or spreading covid,” he says.
Cotsios is referring to the COVID-19 vaccine mandates, which have kept him away from his patients since December 2021.
Three months prior to his termination, however, Cotsios had received a different type of letter. This one was yet another thank- you from a patient, accompanied by the following cover note from NSW Ambulance Service:
“NSW ambulance is fortunate to have so many committed personnel who perform in an admirable way and beyond their duty of care” the note read.
In 1997, Cotsios had again received recognition for his work - the Ambulance NSW State Superintendent’s Commendation Award. This time, he had climbed into the cabin of a partially submerged vehicle that had rolled into a dam. It was a “putrid and stifling hot day” Cotsios recalls. The patient was a young farmer in his early twenties who was submerged to his neck. His leg was pinned, and he was close to drowning.
Cotsios held his patient’s head above water for around 20 minutes until the rescue squad arrived. With no extra room in the cabin for anyone else, they passed equipment to Cotsios, who repeatedly plunged his head into the murky water over 60 minutes to place the equipment and free the young man.
As Cotsios later dried himself off, he recalls a police officer remarked “You’ll be hearing more about this mate. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
In 1999, Dave Cotsios won this same award again, for another incident.
“As far as I am aware, nobody has ever received that award twice,” he says. “But I have.”
And yet, the same state that twice awarded Cotsios a NSW paramedic’s highest honor has now banned him from working in the NSW Ambulance Service.
Australian Paramedics Association (APA) NSW branch president Chris Kastelan says Cotsios “Is not the only highly trained and experienced paramedic lost to NSW Ambulance.”
This comes at a time when demand has never been higher for their services. APA vice president Scott Beaton commented at a recent NSW Health Portfolio Committee meeting that “Two-thirds of the workforce are considering leaving the job due to burnout.”
The NSW Government has pledged to fund an additional 1800 paramedic recruits over the next four years, however Kastelan asks “Who exactly is going to train them?”
It won’t be Dave Cotsios.
Public Health Physician Professor Nathan Grills of Melbourne University believes that the vaccine mandates are keeping too many skilled and experienced workers away from the community who need them. “The argument for vaccine mandates was stronger when they stopped unvaccinated people from infecting others. They don’t anymore – although they still significantly decrease the severity of covid. There are few benefits from mandates and significant harm,” he says.
Dave’s story was similar to many others emailed to me after I reached out to health professionals unable to work because they have chosen not to have the two or three mandated covid injections.
In total, 38 doctors, 237 nurses, 81 other health professionals (including paramedics, sonographers, pharmacists, social workers, psychologists, and more) and 65 other health workers responded to confirm that they remain unable to work. It’s a small informal sample of a likely much larger cohort.
Over 95% reported over 15–40 years’ experience in their fields. They are now either unemployed, or working in non-related fields such as cleaning, truck driving and retail. This, when Australia’s excess death rate is 16.0% higher than the historical average from Jan -Sep 30 2022 according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. And according to the Victorian Government’s Skills Plan “64,500 new health and community services staff” will be required by 2025.
One of the now skilled unemployed is father of eight Associate Professor Chris Neil whose employment was terminated on Christmas Eve 2021. Dr Neil was advised he could no longer work in his position as cardiologist at Western Health in Victoria for failure to comply with the state’s vaccine mandates for healthcare workers.
Dr Neil had worked in that position for eight years. He had built new systems of care, supervised research students and guided them through to completion of their PhDs and other degrees. “I had mentored several physicians in training who are now cardiologists of whom I am very proud,” he said. “I ran the heart failure service and heart failure clinic”.
Dr Neil is considered a risk to his patients and colleagues.
“My primary objection to the mandate was on a religious basis, in that all vaccines use aborted fetal cell lines either in original research and development or in the vaccine itself,” he says. “However, I held and still hold a variety of other concerns. Including that what I do with my body is being taken out of my hands if I am still to earn a living.”
Like Cotsios, Dr Neil no longer has any patients to care for.
Are our state health departments monitoring the number of staff lost to vaccine mandates?
Whilst responses to Freedom of Information applications which I made to various state health departments have yet to be received from SA and NSW, ACT Health reported that “No staff have been terminated,”; Tasmania reported that “Retrieval and collation of this information would require a substantial and unreasonable diversion of resources,” and Ambulance Victoria reported 94 staff members were terminated because of mandates. Queensland Health stated that “934 Queensland Health Staff have been terminated as a result of a discipline process related to non-compliance with Health Employment Directive No.12/21… Employee COVID–19 Vaccination Requirements.” These included three medical officers, 467 nurses, and 17 paramedics. These figures do not account for those who resigned, or who are on leave without pay.
Health Victoria stated, “It was determined that no document exists or can be created because the department does not collect data of the nature requested.”
Western Australia forwarded a number of data documents, however it is difficult to ascertain how many staff were terminated and the outcome of two separate data analyst’s reviews indicated that inconsistency in data collection from one entity to another, and over time, raises questions regarding the quality of the information.
During a Federal Parliament Senate Economics Legislative Committee session in November, Senator Bjorn Jarvis, head of the Labour Statistics Branch of the Australian Bureau of Statistics was asked if the bureau is tracking how many skilled workers are being lost to vaccine mandates, during this period of skilled labour shortage. Jarvis replied, “We don’t ask questions that specifically go to that as a factor.”
So how does a government monitor the impact of a policy to ensure it is not causing unintended harm without collecting data along the way?
Economics Professor Gigi Foster, of UNSW Sydney, says “By setting a policy they did not model, and without tracking data to measure economic impact, it is effectively creating a policy with blinkers on. This is irresponsible stewardship.”
On June 21, 2022, a Parliament of Western Australia budget estimates discussion was held, emphasizing the critical ongoing shortfall of midwives, theatre nurses and junior doctors. They highlighted the need last year to put many pregnant women on bypass, which means re-routing them to other maternity units sometimes up to ten hours round trip away.
The Director General for Health, WA Dr Russell-Weisz, was asked at this meeting whether the number of staff not working because of mandates represents a material impact on service delivery. He commented, “There are not enough of them to make an impact.”
Among those who sent in their details for this article, are 62 WA registered nurses, including 13 registered midwives. Most of the nurses are senior clinicians with a minimum of 15 years’ experience. RN Mel Nic, with over 35 years’ experience, reported, “I can confidently assert that there are at least hundreds of nurses still unable to work, including a minimum of 100 midwives in WA. There may still be up to 2000.”
From November 4, with the State of Emergency Powers being rescinded, Western Australia has permitted unvaccinated health workers to return to work. However, according to Mel Nic, whilst the public system appears more willing, many private health providers are still refusing to hire unvaccinated workers.
“It’s all very slow however and so far, different departments seem to be unsure as to whether we can apply for jobs now,” she says.
“The hospitals would obviously rather struggle and keep on with unsafe staffing, than accept the scientific evidence that covid vaccination is not necessary or effective in preventing the spread of covid.”
“Just a nurse, I am. Just a nurse I be.
Not so easy to replace, but easy to set free.”
-Mel Nic -
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