Wednesday 16th November 2005
Nurses struggle to ensure patient safety at the understaffed Goulburn Base Hospital.
Nurses at Goulburn Base Hospital were forced to reopen beds they closed because a desperate staff shortage threatened patient care.
Nurses say hospital management acting on orders from the Greater Southern Area Health Service, forced them to reopen the beds.
The Nurses Association branch at the hospital earlier had unanimously resolved to call on management to close two beds in maternity and two beds each in the medical and surgery wards to ease workloads.
In later negotiations assisted by the Industrial Relations Commission, the health service agreed not to admit patients unless it was safe to do so, said NSWNA General Secretary Brett Holmes.
‘However members remain concerned about their ability to do this and the Association supports the right of Goulburn Base Hospital nurses to close beds if staff numbers drop to an unsafe level’, Brett said.
‘Further discussions are continuing via the hospital’s Reasonable Workloads Committee. If the situation does not improve the Association will again seek the Commission’s assistance.
‘Other hospitals in Greater Southern, such as Albury and Wagga, close beds when they are in crisis mode. But for some unknown reason the area health service seems to have an attitude about Goulburn that it can’t close beds.’
Hospital Branch Secretary, Lorraine Emerton said the 102 bed hospital was short 8.1 full-time equivalent registered nurses and staff often had to work double shifts.
‘The staff shortage has been going on for years and years and the workloads situation has just about reached crisis point due to inadequate staffing,’ she said.
‘A staffing review is supposed to take place but as far as we know, the report has not yet been released’.
‘We are still waiting for our funded profile of six years ago to be reviewed’.
‘There are huge problems resulting from a lack of staff and other resources in country areas – Goulburn is not alone.’
Brett Holmes said excessive workloads and low morale could be contributing to Goulburn hospital’s difficulty in recruiting staff, despite widespread advertising.
‘The hospital is antiquated and nurses have to work in pretty awful conditions,’ he said.
In a memo sent to all staff as part of a skills inventory, the hospital Director of Nursing wrote: ‘Should the mismatch between staffing and clinical demand become overwhelming and [if] this situation continues for some time, consideration should be given to declaring an internal disaster.’
An editorial in the Goulburn Post newspaper described the situation at the hospital as alarming.
‘For those at the coalface, the over-stretched nurses, an internal disaster won’t be too far off unless Greater Southern Area Health acts quickly to address staffing levels and implements long-term strategies for a very sick hospital,’ the paper wrote.