NSW Opposition Leader Luke Foley made his second visit to the region in less than a week on Wednesday.
Accompanied by Labor candidate for Kiama Andy Higgins, Mr Foley announced the party’s pledge for better nurse-to-patient ratios at Shellharbour Hospital.
This followed Mr Foley’s visit to Berry on the weekend.
On Wednesday, Mr Foley announced that if Labor wins the March state election, they would increase the number of nurses at Shellharbour Hospital by introducing guaranteed, new nurse-to-patient ratios.
The ratios would be for Category B and C (such as Shellharbour) hospitals.
“The big city, Category A hospitals currently have more nurses for patients than hospitals like Shellharbour,” Mr Foley said.
“Under the Labor policy we’re announcing today, patients at Shellharbour Hospital will have the same ratio of nurses as the patients enjoy in the bigger Sydney hospitals.
“That’s one nurse to three patients in emergency departments, one nurse to four patients in our surgical and medical wards during the day and one to seven at night.
“It’s about reducing the burnout of our hard-working nurses.”
He estimated the number of extra nurses needed across the state to meet the ratio plan would be “in the four figures”.
“On staffing, this is eminently affordable… It will cost money, but I make no apology for saying I put hospitals before Sydney sporting stadiums,” he said.
Mr Foley said there would be further health-related policies announced in the lead-up to the election, “but the first thing we’re committing to is lifting the number of nurses in hospitals like Shellharbour”.
Last October, the state government announced that a $251 million Shellharbour Hospital redevelopment would begin in 2018.
Parliamentary Secretary for the Illawarra and Kiama MP Gareth Ward said works were scheduled to begin later this year.
Mr Ward said the upgrade of the hospital would “come with more nurses, more doctors... To support the expanded service delivery needs of that hospital”.
He also called on Labor to match this spending commitment.
Mr Foley questioned whether $251 million would be “enough to get the job done here”.
“Now that the government has at least temporarily walked away from their privatisation plans, they need to spell out what exactly $251 million will deliver here, then we’ll be in a position to respond,” he said.
Mr Ward also said the government already had a recognised nurse hours-to-patient days ratio in place, which he said was “the most flexible” method.
“Ours is a direct reflection of the number of people in the system that require care at any one time,” he said.
Nadia Rodriguez is a member of the NSW Nurses and Midwives' Association, and an enrolled nurse at Shellharbour, where she has worked for 18 years.
“Nurses are very over-worked,” she said on Wednesday.
“Even today, we weren’t able to get as many nurses to come out here because a lot of the wards are short-staffed and there’s things happening.
“A lot of patients that do present to Shellharbour Hospital and other hospitals are older patients, and therefore they have more complex health issues, are staying in hospitals longer and they really need and deserve that care from the nurses.
“Quite often because these patients are staying longer and have more complex needs, we don’t have enough nurses to provide that full-on care that they require.”
Ms Rodriguez also said it was crucial that babies were counted as a patient in their own right when determining ratios.