Illawarra nurses demand safe staffing levels

Illawarra and Shoalhaven nurses and midwives will add their voices to the campaign to "guarantee safe nursing levels" for rural hospitals, children's wards and emergency departments.

NSW Nurses Association secretary Brett Holmes said yesterday that rural residents who didn't have immediate access to major hospitals should have "at least the same nurse and midwifery ratios as the big Sydney hospitals".

"Because people in rural areas don't have the same level of resources as the larger hospitals, there is an even stronger case for them having guaranteed safer staffing resources to compensate," Mr Holmes said.

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The existing nurses award, finalised in February 2011, includes the first stage of a major reform of staffing arrangements in NSW public hospitals.

Medical patients at principal referral hospitals - including Wollongong - are entitled to an average of six hours of nursing per day under the agreement.

The new claim would bring the region's eight smaller hospitals into line with the bigger facilities.

The union is also taking aim at staffing levels in children's hospitals, wards, neo-natal intensive care units and emergency departments.

"Many people would be surprised and shocked to know that minimum staffing levels are currently not guaranteed in NSW hospitals for seriously ill infants and children."

Mr Holmes said emergency departments and other high-pressure areas such as intensive care units also don't have guaranteed minimum staffing levels at the moment.

Mr Holmes said "things usually work OK because hardworking and responsible clinicians ensure they do".

"But to continue leaving it to chance is not acceptable," he said.

Mr Holmes said health administrators were pushing the importance of primary health care and doing more to keep people out of hospital. Community health services were "vital to achieving this goal".

"However, they can't do it if nurses and midwives are stretched to the limit.

"It's time to introduce stricter, enforceable staffing arrangements in community health services, which include a reasonable balance between face-to-face patient or client time and the time required for things like travel, research and administration," Mr Holmes said.

The region's 1800 public sector nurses and midwives will vote on the staff ratio and wages claim on Monday.

The union is also calling for a 2.5 per cent annual pay rise in July and a further 2.5 per cent in July 2014.

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