Babies ‘don't count’ when calculating nurse-to-patient ratios

BOOST THE NUMBERS: NSW Nurses and Midwives Association members Julie Ljubovic and Chevonne Cowell with fellow members in Wollongong's Crown St Mall on Thursday night. Picture: Robert Peet.
BOOST THE NUMBERS: NSW Nurses and Midwives Association members Julie Ljubovic and Chevonne Cowell with fellow members in Wollongong's Crown St Mall on Thursday night. Picture: Robert Peet.

Our ageing and growing population has not been matched by hospital staffing levels, creating compound problems on wards, nurses say.

And babies need to be counted when nurse-to-patient ratios are calculated, for the sake of hospital patients as well as staff. 

Members of the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association took to Wollongong’s Eat Street markets on Thursday night, taking their argument for proper nurse-to-patient ratios to the people.

The nurses say they need a more transparent ratio, in order to adequately meet the growing demand on public hospitals.

For midwives and their patients, the association says the staffing tool for maternity services, “Birthrate Plus”, did not count babies in the nurse-patient calculation.

This could produce unsafe situations where one midwife had care of several new mothers and their babies, NSWNMA organiser Alistair Ball said.

“You could have one midwife with six mothers and six babies – a total of twelve that they’re expected to care for,” Mr Ball said.

“How would they have time to do six lots of breastfeeding education? Their workload’s doubled just in writing notes, because they write notes on the baby and the mother, even though they’re not actually counted.”

Nurses and Midwives Association member Nilda Miranda said when she started nursing nearly 28 years ago, it was rare to have a 90-year-old on the ward. Now there are often several – and they are likely to have multiple health problems.

“(The) result of having safe ratios is saving lives, and the health of our clients,” she said.

The NSWNMA argues NSW should develop set nurse-to-patient ratios, instead of relying on a calculation of nursing hours per patient day.

Ms Miranda, who works in palliative care at Port Kembla Hospital, said these safe and transparent ratios should be established in all areas of nursing, instead of using fluid numbers or systems that could be manipulated.

“It’s a fairly complicated calculation to actually determine whether the allocated nursing hours are actually appropriate to the number of patients you’ve had for the day,” she said.

“If you have mandated ratios, you ensure the patient always has access to that level of nursing.”

She also said nurses must be replaced like-for-like, so if a registered nurse is off sick they are replaced by a similar skilled nurse, rather than a less qualified worker. 

“You might have the right number of bodies in the place, but you don’t actually have the right skill mix,” she said.