GWAHS nurses at breaking point

Introducing surge beds is the latest, desperate cost-cutting move by GWAHS.

Nurses at cash-strapped Bathurst Base Hospital are in dispute with the Greater Western Area Health Service (GWAHS) over a cost-cutting proposal to introduce surge beds.

The planned October introduction of surge beds triggered an immediate staff uproar at the hospital resulting in a NSWNA branch resolution rebuking the move.

NSWNA Assistant General Secretary Judith Kiejda said the introduction of surge beds was a desperate and cynical move by management to cut costs in the face of crippling financial problems.

‘We don’t object to the surge bed model of care but its viability is dependent on a range of outside services that Bathurst currently lacks,’ she said.

‘We know surge beds do not work when hospitals are short-staffed like at Bathurst.’

Association member and Bathurst Base Hospital Branch Secretary Christene Druce said the system was at the point of collapse and nurses could no longer maintain the unreasonable workloads being imposed upon them.

Christene is also the Orange Health Service’s Disaster Planning Project Officer but nothing could have prepared her for this crisis.

‘Honestly, this is the final straw in a very long saga for us,’ she told The Lamp.

‘At the time of commencing dispute, our members were carrying the brunt of 59 unfilled nursing positions we had identified at the hospital including many frontline clinical places. This is seriously jeopardising standards of practice and maintenance of care.

‘The pressure on staff to keep things going is huge. For a long time now we’ve been trying to function with inadequate budgetary allocations, poor budget management and poor recruitment strategies. Accompanying this has been high levels of corporate bullying over a protracted length of time.

‘Nurses are overworked, close to burnout and morale is low. We’re seeing very high levels of overtime, casual and agency staff utilisation, and part-time staff are regularly working well beyond their contracted hours.’

The ongoing financial crisis at the GWAHS reached flash point last month as hospitals throughout the area began running out of critical medical supplies. Earlier in September, the GWAHS hit the headlines over unpaid food and transport bills.

In the latest controversy, nurses have had to borrow bandages and medical equipment from a veterinary clinic, and a doctor used his own money to buy urgent diagnostic supplies.

Nurse managers at sites across the area report similar chaos and confusion. Many have been refused credit by suppliers and some have also had to purchase critical supplies from their own pockets.

Meanwhile, doctors at Dubbo Base Hospital have passed a motion of no-confidence in the hospital’s management.

Judith described the situation at the GWAHS as nothing short of a train wreck.

‘For months now, nurses across the whole GWAHS have been heroically holding the health service together amid severe supply shortages, dire staffing levels and ill-conceived management strategies,’ she said. ‘Our members have been working tirelessly to keep services running but the crisis is now endangering patient and staff safety. We have never seen a situation like this before and the CEO of GWAHS must be held accountable.’