Action considered after SWAHS let down

Western Sydney members are considering action after SWAHS fails promise to recruit adequate staff.

Public demonstrations at hospitals across Western Sydney last month brought a promise from Sydney West Area Health Service (SWAHS) to overturn a freeze on recruitment.

In the face of swelling community support for nurses who are under intolerable pressure and concerned about the critical impact of the shortages on patient care, the SWAHS agreed to immediately start recruiting to fill vacancies across the AHS.

But the SWAHS promises to fill vacancies quickly fell to disappointment when it was revealed the recruitment plan was woefully inadequate and would be delayed due to initial attempts to recruit internally.

‘There are severe staff shortages in all hospitals in SWAHS. It doesn’t take a genius to work out SWAHS is not going to recruit staff from an already depleted pool. They’ll be just bit filling – moving staff and vacancies around from department to another, with more and more vacancies appearing as they go,’ said NSWNA Assistant General Secretary Judith Kiejda.

‘The attempt by SWAHS to advertise positions internally, before advertising externally, is causing at least a month’s delay.

‘The number of positions advertised is also not enough to fill the vacancies – only a fraction of positions required have been advertised.

‘Members are very angry, they are feeling totally let down by the SWAHS. We need urgent, external advertising of all vacancies to happen immediately,’ said Judith.

‘Members are considering action because they are totally fed up and extremely concerned about patient care.’

Like many wards and units in public hospitals across SWAHS, Maternity Services at Nepean Hospital is suffering critical staff shortages.

Shirley Hammond, NUM in Maternity Services, said she was utterly dismayed to discover SWAHS was not recruiting according to the unit’s profile. ‘We have 25 FTE vacancies in maternity services. SWAHS has only advertised six positions,’ she said.

‘For the past 15 months I have not been able to fill shifts. Sometimes we’re 18 short. There really is a critical situation in maternity services.

‘Like other NUMs here, I’m tearing my hair out trying to fill shifts. It’s a constant juggling act – robbing Peter to pay Paul.

‘I’m having to pull midwives from the wards to the delivery suite, I’m constantly chasing staff to fill sick leave,’ said Shirley.

‘I can use agency staff to fill some of the gaps but agency staff won’t necessarily have the appropriate skills, knowledge or experience. They also don’t know the patients, this means patients are not getting continuity of care.

‘Patients are suffering, care is being compromised. For example, in the ante natal clinic women are not being seen until 21 weeks into their pregnancy. If something is going wrong it’s not picked up until 21 weeks.

‘Only this morning a patient turned up to her first ante natal visit at 21 weeks pregnancy but the midwife could not find a foetal heartbeat. We don’t know how long ago the baby died or whether earlier testing and monitoring would have picked up a problem.

‘It’s a terrible state of affairs. Nurses are really afraid for their patients,’ said Shirley.

‘Members are very angry that SWAHS has failed on its promise to recruit enough staff to fill vacancies.

‘We’re asking the community for support and the branch is considering further action if SWAHS won’t respond to our concerns,’ said Shirley.

Judith Kiejda said, ‘The NSWNA is committed to supporting members in taking further action to have appropriate numbers of staff recruited. We will be on hand 24/7 to give members advice and support.’