Bellingen battles for more staff

Workloads tool not for you, rural nurses told

An area health service’s reluctance to give a district hospital more nurses high-lights the difficulty small rural hospitals may face, when seeking to use the workloads tool to measure staff requirements.

North Coast Area Health Service (NCAHS) knocked back a staffing request from Bellinger River District Hospital after its Reasonable Workloads Committee calculated that the hospital’s 18-bed medical ward needed 1.83 FTE extra nurses.

The workloads committee applied the workloads tool as provided for under the reasonable workloads clause of the nurses’ public sector award.

Chris Moore, vice president of the NSWNA branch at the hospital, said hospital management recognised that the medical ward, which cares for a high proportion of aged patients, was understaffed.

‘But six months after we put in our staffing request to NCAHS, area management told us the workloads tool was not applicable to a small rural medical ward,’ Chris said.

The NSWNA branch responded with a resolution criticising the failure to provide adequate staff. Area management then sought a ruling from NSW Health on whether the workloads tool could be applied to the Bellingen medical ward.

Nurses did not know if the ruling had been provided when this edition of The Lamp went to press.

Chris Moore said nurses could not see why the workloads tool should not be applied to the medical ward regardless of its size.

‘The other part of the hospital is casualty, theatres and a second ward with a maternity unit all combined, which admittedly makes it harder to calculate reasonable workloads,’ he said.

‘By comparison, the medical ward is fairly straightforward.

‘Nurses should not be denied their rights under the award because they work in small rural hospitals.’

With only one RN and one EN on the evening and night shifts, and the NUM and two ENs on day shift, Bellingen nurses are feeling the pressure.

‘Low morale is an issue when nurses regularly have to make an extra effort to compensate for lack of staff,’ Chris said.

‘We have made a bona fide attempt to put the workloads tool into practice but we can’t even get our submission addressed.’