Wednesday 2nd February 2011
573 beds closed at 68 hospitals forced the NSW Government to start negotiating on ratios.
In January, public health sector members closed 573 beds in non-emergency areas at 68 hospitals as part of industrial action to pressure the NSW Government to make a genuine offer for nurse-to-patient ratios and better skill mix.
The action resulted in a constructive offer on ratios by the Government on 12 January.
As elective procedures recommenced after the Christmas-January shutdowns, Branches progressively started shutting one in four beds and reduced clinic appointments and home visits. By 12 January NSWNA members had closed 573 beds at over 68 facilities across NSW. Throughout the bed closure plan all patients who required emergency care were provided with that care.
NSWNA General Secretary Brett Holmes said the decision to close beds was not made lightly by the Association and members. ‘Members were forced as a last resort to take this serious industrial action after negotiations with the Government stalled in December.
‘This action was about showing the State Government just how serious nurses and midwives are about this important patient-care reform,’ said Brett.
‘With the closure of almost 600 beds at 68 facilities, the Government felt the pressure members have exerted. It is only your action that resulted in a reasonable offer,’ said Brett Holmes.
Unlike Victoria, the NSW industrial relations system requires that industrial action be lifted in order for any further negotiations to occur. NSWNA members started re-opening closed hospital beds on 13 January while the NSWNA Council and Committee of Delegates considered the offer.
A little daunting but we achieved results
Alanna Man is a new grad RN at RPA Hospital and was previously an EN for four years. Closing beds was the first major industrial action that Alanna had taken part in – and she found it both daunting and exciting. ‘It sent a strong message that we’re serious when we close beds. It’s important to stand up for what we believe in. We didn’t do this lightly, we did it because it was best for the patients,’ said Alanna.
‘The public and patients were supportive. The patients were very understanding. They understood we were doing it for them not for ourselves.
‘There was a tremendous feeling of camaraderie – especially at the strike meeting in Homebush. We might be working in different regions and different nursing areas but were all trying our best to deliver safe patient care. I really felt the value of being part of the union. We stuck together for something we believe in and now we can see the results. Taking action brought all nurses across the state together.’
As a new grad, Alanna was pleased to be part of the discussions and action. ‘It made me feel part of the team and I felt proud to be part of the Union,’ she said. ‘Closing beds was serious action and it was daunting to take it on, but we achieved results quickly.’
Bed closures showed we are passionate about ratios
Jan Dilworth, CNC and Branch Secretary at RPA, said it was a ‘difficult decision’ for Branch members to close beds. ‘Nurses are very passionate about their patients and anything that could have an impact on patients is always uppermost before consideration would be given to taking strike action. However, when the Branch Delegates discussed the likelihood of strike action to the members they overwhelmingly voted yes at the Extraordinary meeting,’ said Jan.
‘This showed how very strongly members feel about the importance of ratios and this campaign. It was important that we made the Government sit up and take notice. I think the Government thought that nurses wouldn’t be so proactive. However, they underestimated how passionate we are about ensuring safe patient care and having patient/staff ratios.’
Jan’s main role is as a Registered Midwife and she is pleased that the Birthrate Plus tool will finally be introduced. ‘The RPAH Branch has been quite persistent in asking where this tool is as it’s long overdue and maternity units need it. We need safe patient care for mothers and babies,’ said Jan.