12-hour shift win

Mental health unit to trial new roster

With a fax machine as their weapon, a group of South Coast mental health nurses have won a breakthrough in their battle to introduce 12-hour shifts.

After a year of saying ‘No’, management of South Eastern Sydney and Illawarra Area Health Service announced a trial of 12-hour rosters for Eloura West mental health unit at Shellharbour Hospital starting this month (September).

The about-face follows an avalanche of fax messages to top health bureaucrats and an appeal to former Health Minister John Della Bosca from members of the NSW Nurses’ Association Illawarra Mental Health branch.

Branch delegate Glenn Hayes said members fired off about 150 faxes to Mr Della Bosca, NSW Health Director General Debora Picone, NSW Chief Nurse Debra Thoms and other officials, supporting a trial.

‘A big majority of branch members signed letters supporting their 15 fellow nurses and security staff at Eloura West,’ Glenn said.

He said members believed a 12-hour roster would reduce the number of 16-hour double shifts being worked in ‘a very stressful high dependency ward’, providing a better work/life balance for nurses and greater staff continuity for patients.

‘Other units have now decided they want 12-hour shifts and are hoping for a successful trial at Eloura West.’

When former Minister Mr Della Bosca addressed the NSWNA annual conference in July and took questions from delegates, Eloura West RN and Secretary of the Illawarra Mental Health Branch, Angela Pridham, seized the opportunity.

‘I spoke about our long campaign to persuade management to introduce 12-hour shifts, which are already in place in other units across the state,’ Angela said.

‘I presented Mr Della Bosca with a bundle of fax messages in case he was not aware of our case, and he said he would look into it.

‘That was on Wednesday, 29 July. The following Monday the director of the southern network mental health service emailed the NUM of Eloura West to say they would do a trial of the 12-hour roster.

‘I don’t know what role the Minister played, but we were applying pressure from all areas, including the union’s General Secretary Brett Holmes speaking to our CEO Terry Clout.’

Following management’s repeated refusal to undertake a trial, the Illawarra Mental Health branch had earlier resolved not to work more than four hours overtime before or after an eight-hour shift, unless required by exceptional circumstances (see The Lamp, August 2009).

The Area Health Service took the NSWNA to the Industrial Relations Commission seeking an order against the overtime restrictions at Eloura West.

Commissioner Donna McKenna declined to take action against the restrictions, on the grounds that the public health system award provided for the working of reasonable overtime.

‘If time is being worked in excess of four hours before or after a shift, it certainly seems to me to be getting into the territory of unreasonable overtime,’ Commissioner McKenna said.n