Community backs Kempsey staffing campaign

MPs join nurses in street march

In a sign of growing community support for the ‘one more nurse per shift’ campaign at Kempsey District Hospital, politicians from all three levels of government have marched alongside nurses through the streets of Kempsey.

RN Di Lohman, the hospital’s NSWNA Branch Secretary, said nurses were pleased that Federal, State and local politicians marched with the nurses and publicly pledged support for the campaign. They included the State member for Oxley and National Party leader in NSW Andrew Stoner, the Federal National Party MP for Cowper Luke Hartsuyker and Mayor John Bowell.

She said six shire councillors joined the march and others who could not attend spoke at meetings, collected signatures and distributed campaign postcards addressed to NSW Health Minister Carmel Tebbutt.

‘The councillors have been on a mission – they’ve been fantastic,’ Di said.

A petition seeking one more Registered Nurse per shift for the hospital’s understaffed Emergency Department has so far attracted 6,300 signatures in the shire of 28,000.

‘We are keeping the petition going because shire councillors and other people who want to collect signatures keep asking us for copies,’ Di said.

Andrew Stoner has tabled a motion in Parliament calling on the Government to provide one more RN for each ED shift at Kempsey ‘in the interests of quality health care and a safe working environment’.

‘In 11 years as the local member for Kempsey I have never seen the nurses up in arms like this,’ he wrote, urging Ms Tebbutt to visit the hospital to talk to staff.

Kempsey nurses wrote to Ms Tebbutt to ask for a meeting and to deliver their petition personally, after the Minister declined to visit Kempsey, citing her busy schedule.

On the day of the march, the Chief Executive of the North Coast Area Health Service, Chris Crawford, promised on radio to visit the hospital, midway between Brisbane and Sydney, in February to speak to staff.

Ms Tebbutt had not replied to the nurses’ letter and nor had staff been given a date for the meeting with Mr Crawford when this issue of The Lamp went to press.

Di Lohman said all three local newspapers and radio stations were giving the campaign wide publicity.

‘The public know the nurses in Kempsey don’t normally protest about things, we just get on with the job. So when we take to the streets the public know things are not right,’ she said.

‘Community support has been fantastic. The hospital is a pivotal part of the community and everyone’s very proud and protective of it. While we are grossly underfunded and understaffed – like most regional areas – the hospital has a really good reputation and every single day patients tell us how much they appreciate the way we look after them.’

She said Kempsey ED had fewer than half the staff of nearby Port Macquarie Base Hospital ED yet treated more than 1,000 patients last December – just under the numbers treated at Port Macquarie.

In 2008/2009 the hospital treated an additional 5.2 patients per day with no increase in the number of RNs.

Four more beds were opened in Kempsey’s refurbished ED when it opened early last year, but no extra staff were employed.

‘There is so much evidence we are understaffed but the department are trying to ignore it,’ Di said.

‘There are new policy directives coming out of Area head office but with present staffing levels we are unable to comply with them.’

Nurses from all wards have been supporting the campaign for more ED staff from the outset. ‘Some nurses waited around to go on the march even though they’d been working all night,’ Di said. ‘And we’ve had lots of support from other employees like kitchen staff and wardsmen.

‘Resident doctors are all behind us, and one spoke at the launch of our campaign. But some of the visiting doctors who have helped us behind the scenes are scared to speak out because they believe they would be victimised. They obviously don’t have a nurses’ union behind them to give them support.’