Bans target income, not patients

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Non-nursing duties banned by John Hunter Hospital theatre nurses included emptying linen bins, cleaning tables and transporting patients – all tasks supposed to be done by theatre assistants.

Theatre nurse Suzanne McKay, a member of the Union Specific Consultative Committee, said the ban also covered clerical duties not directly affecting patients.

“We opted for bans that we felt weren’t going to affect the patient journey but would affect the LHD financially,” she said.

“For example, when we complete an implant and prosthesis form for a patient we normally photocopy it so the hospital can obtain rebates.

“Under the ban we were going to fill out the implant form for the patient but not photocopy it for the administration, thereby preventing them obtaining the rebates.

“Management knew that would cost them money which is why they moved quickly to meet with us.”

The bans were only in place for an hour before management agreed to meet the union.

Suzanne said nurses simply wanted to work in accordance with their award including regular breaks and with staff levels at 2008 ACORN standards.

“Working conditions were abominable earlier this year. Nurses were regularly missing out on morning tea and lunch breaks and doing huge amounts of overtime.

“Management claimed there was no expectation on people to do overtime however they wouldn’t send anyone in to relieve us. And we couldn’t just walk out on patients.

“At the same time management were asking why people were taking so much sick leave.”

Suzanne said the daily consultations over staff numbers were helping to achieve a more reasonable workload which would improve patient safety.

“Today we had to cancel a list due to failure to replace staff on sick leave. That never would have happened before we went to the Commission.

“Previously we would have just soldiered on without morning tea or lunch breaks and by bringing management onto the floor. The award conditions we are entitled to would have all gone out the window.

“Cancelling lists hurts the bottom line and we understand the need to earn income. But it is not acceptable to put patients in an unsafe environment because you’ve got novice staff running a room on their own and perhaps not being aware of all the protocols, for example.”