Beds may closeat Wagga Wagga

Bans threat brings swift action on vacancies

Wagga Wagga Base Hospital nurses got no action on their repeated appeals for more staff – until they decided to impose workplace bans.

‘We felt we had no alternative,’ said branch president and ICU nurse Tania Gleeson. ‘We have a vacancy rate of around 45 full-time-equivalent nurses in a 259-bed hospital. We tried through meetings and letters to get a meaningful response but we felt as though we just got fobbed off.

‘In some areas replacement staff had been approved but not recruited, mainly because of serious problems in the recruitment process which weren’t being addressed.’

The bans decision, assisted by local media coverage of the excessive workload imposed on nurses by understaffing, helped management grasp the seriousness of the problem.

Union-management negotiations via the hospital’s reasonable workloads committee (RWC) so far have resulted in agreement that beds may be closed, and/or elective surgery cancelled, if staffing is inadequate.

The RWC has also agreed to:

  • Increase nurse numbers and improve the skill mix in the ED
  • Prevent areas such as the eye and plaster rooms from being used to treat ‘spillover’ patients from the ED
  • Urgently recruit a nurse to focus solely on bed management
  • Conduct a more visible recruitment campaign including outside the Greater Southern area
  • Make greater use of internet-based recruitment software.

Tania said the hospital’s recruitment process meant six management personnel were required to sign off on the employment of one nurse.

‘It has taken so long in the past for a nurse to be employed at WWBH that experienced applicants have given up and gone to work for the local private hospital,’ she said.

‘It also takes too long to finalise new employees’ contracts. We have had nurses working for up to six weeks without being paid due to this delay.

‘The staff shortage has resulted in a serious access block in ED with ambulances blocked in turn because they can’t offload patients from their stretchers.

‘Because of the staff shortage, inten-sive care can’t handle more than about two ventilators – we used to have five.

‘Staff were already working long periods of overtime when winter set in and the Health Department announced their winter strategy for extra beds.

That strategy was introduced with the proviso that the policy be approved by the RWCs. But at WWBH the RWC wasn’t consulted – management stated they were not aware this policy had to be discussed, and accepted, by the RWC, and hence more beds were opened without any consultation.’

Tania said nurses were fed up with the strain of covering for staff vacancies, and became discouraged by the lack of management response to RWC incident reports.

‘Things are looking better now and the union is helping the branch to get action via the RWC,’ she said. ‘The branch is getting regular briefings about the situation and will closely monitor staffing and workloads.’