Enough is enough!

North Coast nurses and community rally for safe patient care.

Hundreds of nurses and community members attended rallies at four major North Coast hospitals to protest against severe budget cuts across the North Coast Area Health Service. These budget cuts have resulted in the loss of hundreds of nursing and allied health positions, which nurses say is putting patient safety at risk.

Rallies were held on 9 December at Lismore Base, Port Macquarie, Coffs Harbour and Tweed Heads Hospitals to highlight the alarming impact of savage staff cuts on patients and nurses.

Gil Wilson, CNC and Branch Secretary at Lismore Base Hospital, said nurses took to the streets to show how bad things are in the NCAHS. ‘Things are so bad nurses called on the community to help. Due to savage budget cuts, nurses believe they do not have enough staffing to deliver a level of safe patient care,’ he said.

‘The NCAHS is putting budget over patient care. The cuts are really starting to bite. Workloads are heavier than ever and nurses are worried about patient safety.’

The budget cuts have resulted in:

  • a big reduction in community health services;
  • overcrowding and increased waiting times in local Emergency Departments;
  • a reduction in hospital bed numbers across the NCAHS; and
  • an increased need for patients to travel to gain essential treatment.

NSWNA General Secretary Brett Holmes said: ‘So far the AHS has been able to reduce its staffing positions by 230 and it is working on removing another 170 positions. Directors of Nursing are struggling to keep up services now. The loss of more nursing positions will make things even worse.

‘For example, in community nursing, which was supposed to be strengthened with the introduction of the so-called surge beds, there are 30 vacancies at Coffs Harbour-Clarence alone. There is an estimated 80 to 100 community nursing vacancies across the entire Area Health Service. This is disgraceful given the assurances everyone was given when the hospital beds were reduced and replaced by these ‘surge beds’.

‘ As for the surge beds, this idea has degenerated into nothing more than a straight bed cut in many cases. Surge beds are in place at Ballina, Macksville, Maclean and Murwillumbah, but they are struggling to find nursing staff to open them at short notice.

‘The reduction in community services also has a direct impact on Emergency Departments, with presentations increasing. This is especially true for mental health presentations. Many general patients are waiting on trolleys for up to 48 hours and mental health patients for up to 72 hours.

‘Local nursing leadership is also being lost at many facilities, with only one Director of Nursing over each of Tweed-Murwillumbah, Lismore-Ballina, Grafton-Maclean and Port Macquarie-Wauchope. Kempsey will be the only site left with its own Director of Nursing,’ said Brett.

NSWNA Assistant General Secretary Judith Kiejda told nurses and community members at the Tweed Hospital rally she has a message for NCAHS management:  ‘Enough is enough’.

‘We are not going to take this constant erosion of our health service for another minute. How dare these bureaucrats make judgements based on the bottom line and not on clinical need. How dare they put patients at risk and expect nurses to front up to work every day and deliver safe patient care with fewer and fewer resources.

‘How dare they put in place initiatives such as surge beds where they effectively close local beds and hope against hope that should we need to open those beds they’ll be able to find suitably qualified nursing staff at a moment’s notice, and if they don’t find staff they just expect those already on duty to carry the load.

‘Nurses have been carrying this system for a decade or more but now we are entering seriously dangerous territory – positions have been cut left, right and centre – many of those are frontline positions.

‘Our members are increasingly concerned about their ability to continue to provide safe patient care with the current allocated resources,’ said Judith.