Nursing jobs could be axed under cuts to the state's health budget, despite Health Minister Jillian Skinner's recent assurances that they were "exempt" from the labour expense cap being imposed on health districts.
Opposition health spokesman Andrew McDonald said Ms Skinner had told a budget estimates hearing on Monday that nurse unit managers, clinical nurse consultants and clinical nurse educators could all lose their jobs.
"Over and over again the minister has declared that nurses would not be affected by the cuts but that has been exposed as a lie," Dr McDonald said.
"Cutting nurses in our hospitals will see waiting lists blow out even further and force patients to make do without the nursing support they need."
Ms Skinner responded to Dr McDonald's claims yesterday, saying "frontline nurses are quarantined from the labour expense cap".
However NSW Nurses and Midwives Association general secretary Brett Holmes said nurse unit managers, clinical nurse consultants and clinical nurse educators were frontline nurses.
"Yes, they are nurses and I would classify them as essential workers," he said.
"Nurse unit managers are the centrepiece of the health system - they manage everything on the ward including the delivery and co-ordination of care.
"Clinical nurse educators and clinical nurse consultants are also essential to the delivery of safe patient care.
"They transfer information, education and knowledge for research and practice. They are an important part of high level service delivery and supporting high quality care."
Mr Holmes said the association would oppose any of these positions being made redundant.
An Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District spokeswoman said there were no plans to cut nursing positions.
"Recruitment at Wollongong Hospital to nursing vacancies remains ongoing as they arise," she said.
The spokeswoman said health district management would continue working "to maintain high quality services and improve efficiency to work within allocated budgets".
Ms Skinner said local health districts had been given control over how they redirected $2.2 billion to create greater efficiencies in the health budget and how they find $89 million in savings as part of the labour expense cap.
Hospital support staff are set to be most affected by the cuts, while Ms Skinner has said money could also be saved by cutting back on employee expenses like overtime and the hiring of locum doctors.