Beds closed to ensure patient safety


Nurses win extra staff pending review.

Muswellbrook Hospital nurses closed six general ward beds for a week due to concerns that understaffing was compromising patient safety.

The nurses reopened the beds when the NSW Industrial Relations Commission brokered a temporary settlement of their staffing dispute.

The Commission recommended as an interim measure that beds reopen with an extra EN on afternoon shift and an extra RN on call for night duty.

This arrangement is to apply pending a nurses review of staffing and workloads.

Nurses Association branch secretary at the hospital, Maeve Brooks welcomed the nurses review. She said a major problem was insufficient staff to cover the high dependency unit and emergency department at night.

‘We had one RN to cover both the HDU and ED which created a risky situation, for example if we had cardiac patients in the HDU and had to leave them to attend the ED,’ Maeve said.

‘We tried unsuccessfully to find a solution via the hospital workloads committee, before deciding to close beds.

‘We didn’t want to inconvenience the people of Muswellbrook but we have to ensure we have a manageable workload, so we can provide a safe environment and optimal care for our patients.’

Maeve said the HDU, ED, medical, surgical, paediatrics and oncology are all on one floor, ‘so you can imagine how frantic it gets at times’.

‘Now if we have HDU patients and the ED gets busy we can call in the RN.

‘Aside from ED/HDU staffing and safety, other issues include the fact that the hospital in charge out of hours has to organise staffing on-call and calling in staff for emergencies in theatre or obstetrics.

‘They also have to take care of transfers in and out after hours, security matters, and pharmacy ordering as we do not have a pharmacy on site.

‘They must also be available to assist the staff in the 18-bed aged care facility when there is no RN available to work, and it is therefore staffed by an EN and AIN or on rare occasions two AINs.’

Maeve said a ward clerk position was recently created for A Floor, for four hours per day Monday to Friday. This has just been upgraded to eight hours. This position is currently filled by an EN who sustained an injury and is on restricted duties.

‘From 5pm to 8am the phones, admissions and all paperwork is done by the nurses,’ she said.

‘With all the extra jobs we are doing without any support, it gets to the point where you think, how much longer can we keep going with what we are doing?

‘The support we’ve had from the Nurses’ Association has been magnificent. We weren’t sure how to handle the issues or what to do, but our union officials came in and got things on track. They have been very supportive and were brilliant in the meetings and the Industrial Commission.’

The nursing review was carried out by the director of nursing at Armidale hospital and a nurse manager from John Hunter hospital in Newcastle.

Their report has gone to the chief executive of Hunter New England Area Health Service, Terry Clout. Muswellbrook nurses had not seen the report’s recommendations before The Lamp went to press.