Proposed nursing staff cuts at Bega Hospital prompted a protest rally there and at the Pambula District Hospital yesterday.
Nursing staff and midwives in Bega Hospital’s medical ward will lose 56 nursing hours under a new roster that effectively sees bedside staff reduced from five to four.
This is on top of concerns about the lack of ward and cleaning support and the lack of consultation about other staff changes, such as the increased use of unlicensed assistants-in-nursing (AiNs).
Pambula District Hospital nurse representative, Drew Barr, said the Pambula rally, held in their unpaid half-hour lunch break, was a show of support for their Bega colleagues.
“The problem is that nurses wish to give good quality care – we want to treat the sick and injured, give mothers and babies support, and attend to those people with mental illness, or pain management or the distress for end of life experience,” he said.
“With these cuts, these things won’t be achieved with the quality they deserve.”
Save Our Hospital Inc (SOHI) president Sharon Tapscott said it was a further erosion of health services that would affect both hospitals.
“From the SOHI perspective, it’s another example of administration sneaking in policy without anyone watching and giving them a very short time to react so it becomes a fait accompli,” she said.
“There are no stakeholders that have been involved in the decision making process, there has been no consultation with the staff or community.
“What they’re doing is dividing resources – if Bega needs something, they’ll take it from Pambula and if Pambula needs something, they’ll take it from Bega so it’s detrimental to both hospitals.”
The NSW Nurses Association (NSWNA) warned that if the roster went ahead, there would be bed closures.
“Bega Hospital management is planning to cut ‘bedside’ nurse numbers in the 22-bed medical ward, which has an average occupancy rate of more than 18 patients per day, from five to four on the busy morning shift,” a NSWNA media release said.
“The new roster is scheduled to start next Monday, 6 August, and if it goes ahead the nurses will start closing beds, once they become vacant, to maintain the safer nurse-patient ratio.”
NSWNA assistant secretary, Judith Kiejda, said if that nursing position is lost on the morning shift it means the remaining nurses will be under considerable pressure to provide safe patient care, as this is the busiest shift of the day when most things like showering, admission, discharge and doctors’ visits are done.
“There aren’t enough nurses to do everything that needs to be done now, with current staffing levels,” she said.
“If the reductions go ahead, nurses will be unable to provide the level of care the people of Bega deserve. They will have no choice but to compensate by reducing bed numbers.”
“Back up support for the nurses, such as cleaning and administration is also inadequate at Bega Hospital. That means the medical ward nurses regularly have to escort patients for tests outside the hospital, routinely clean beds, help out in the children’s ward, empty garbage bins and dirty linen skips after hours, and order and unpack stock.
“To make matters worse, at the moment there is only one wards person, on each shift, for the entire 77-bed Bega Hospital.
“Bega Hospital management is also trying to employ more unlicensed AiNs. While management say these staff will be used to ‘special’ patients when they need closer observation, Bega nurses are concerned it is really about replacing registered (RN) and enrolled nurses (EN) with AiNs.
“There is a place for AiNs, and many are already employed in our health system, but not as a cheap replacement for RNs and ENs. This also threatens patient safety at Bega Hospital.
“Finally, there has also been no serious consultation about a management proposal to reduce vital nurse-management back-up at Pambula. All-in-all the Bega nurses and midwives, and their Pambula colleagues, feel under siege from hospital managers intent on putting cost-cutting ahead of safe patient care.
“Therefore, the nurses and midwives of Bega and Pambula are asking the people of the region to support their campaign to stop these cuts to nursing positions and support. Everyone is invited to send local State MP, Andrew Constance, a strong message that he must intervene to stop these nursing cuts. This can be done by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org or phoning his office on 6492 2056,” Ms Kiejda said.
On learning that he had been made the point of contact for concerned people, Mr Constance said, “It’s a bit rich from the union. They could have done me the courtesy of requesting a meeting but they’ve chosen to utilise me as a political football.
“I’m very happy to help and happy to meet, but they have to request a meeting, and they themselves have to understand that health is run from a local board.
“As I understand it negotiations are continuing on the nurse hour per patient day ratio as it relates to the ward at Bega.
“This is part of an agreement that the nurses union had signed off on with the state.”
In comments made to the Fairfax Regional Media this week, director of nursing and midwifery services with the Southern NSW Local Health District Heather Austin said, “Bega Hospital is committed to providing safe staffing levels and has no intention of staffing below the level agreed between the NSW Nurses Association and the Ministry of Health.
“This level is five nursing hours per patient day and the medical ward roster provides more that this level of staffing.
“It is hoped that the agreed staffing methodology can be clarified to everyone’s satisfaction.”