Illawarra nurses have condemned the NSW Government over its “seven-year failure” to deliver improved patient-to-nurse ratios for the region’s hospitals.
The Wollongong, Shellharbour and Shoalhaven branches of the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association were among 171 branches statewide to this week endorse the union’s resolution to continue to campaign for mandated ratios.
While the majority of NSWNMA members voted to accept the government’s 2.5 per cent pay increase on Wednesday, they were furious that their union’s ratios claim had been ignored.
NSWNMA region organiser Alistair Ball said mandated nurse-to-patient ratios would be fairer than NSW Health’s current staffing formula, Nursing Hours Per Patient Day (NHPPD).
Under this system a patient at Wollongong Hospital is entitled to six NHPPD, while a Shellharbour Hospital patient – undergoing the same procedure – would receive just five nursing hours per day.
“This system means patients at smaller regional hospitals get less nursing care, simply because of where they live,” Mr Ball said.
“So over the last seven years we’ve tried to negotiate with the government to improve patient care, and safety, by increasing nurse numbers by way of ratios.
“This would lead to better patient outcomes and would reduce the stress and burnout experienced by many nursing staff.”
The NSWNMA’s Ratios Claim is asking for one nurse to three patients in emergency departments, paediatric wards and critical care units and a minimum of one nurse to four patients in rural and regional hospital wards.
It also asks for an improvement of ratios in mental health and rehabilitation units and for babies to be counted as patients in post-natal maternity staffing
“For instance in emergency departments where we want ratios of one to three, we’re hearing stories of nurses in hospitals including Wollongong looking after up to eight patients on their own,” Mr Ball said.
“Medical assessment units attached to EDs at hospitals including Wollongong and Shellharbour are also in dire need of ratios, with nurses often stretched and unable to deliver the care they want in a timely manner.”
Mr Ball said Illawarra nurses took their campaign for proper ratios to Wollongong mall in April: “The local branches will continue their campaign in coming months, to inform the public and put pressure on politicians.”
However Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District acting executive director Nursing and Midwifery, Deborah Cameron, said the Public Health System Nurses’ and Midwives’ (State) Award already provided an agreed method for determining the number of nurses required to provide direct clinical care.
“This award allows local nurse unit managers the flexibility to allocate nursing hours in a way that matches the busiest times and patient needs. Daily meetings are held to ensure nursing levels are appropriate, safe and meet patient demand,” she said.
“Nursing rosters are reviewed to ensure adequate staffing, including during unexpected periods of increased demand and unplanned staff leave. Rostering also takes into account our nurses’ well-being, ensuring a reasonable workload.
“Safe and effective staffing in nursing and midwifery involves more than just numbers of staff; it is about making sure we have the right number of staff in the right place at the right time and adjusting staffing to meet activity and patient complexity.”
Ms Cameron said there were more than 2600 full-time-equivalent nursing staff employed across the district. This included almost 100 new nurse and midwife graduates who had joined the district this year.
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