Intolerable pressure

Western Sydney nurses seek public support on staffing crisis.

‘Enough is enough’ was the rallying cry of nurses who held public demonstrations outside seven Western Sydney hospitals last month.

They were demanding an end to an area-wide freeze on recruitment that is putting intolerable pressure on overworked staff and jeopardising patient care.

About 850 nurses attended lunchtime rallies outside Lithgow, Katoomba, Nepean, Mt Druitt, Blacktown, Westmead and Auburn hospitals and Merrylands community health centre.

Nurses were joined by community supporters ranging from fellow unionists such as railway and maritime workers (Nepean Hospital) and fire fighters (Auburn) to local businesses and service clubs (Katoomba).

NSWNA General Secretary Brett Holmes told the rally at Nepean Hospital in Penrith that the Sydney West Area Health Service had not advertised positions externally since February 2009 as part of a cost-cutting exercise.

‘Nurse Managers are only allowed to advertise within the existing staff, meaning that staff shortages just get moved around within the area health service,’ he said.

‘Nurses and midwives can no longer carry the health system on their backs, nor can they remain silent on the reduction of services in their communities.

‘Patient care is being compromised. Nurses and midwives, who previously provided quality patient care, are now simply asking for the ability to provide safe patient care.’

Brett said Nepean Hospital at Penrith had 20 full-time-equivalent (FTE) positions unfilled in the maternity section alone.

‘There are also 14.5 vacancies in the Emergency Department and despite this shortage the ED nurses are being called upon to cover shortages on other wards.

‘Nepean Hospital is almost on life support itself,’ he said.

‘The Emergency Departments at Mount Druitt-Blacktown are down 13 FTE nurses, including the vital clinical-leadership positions of Clinical Nurse Consultant and Clinical Nurse Educator.

‘The story is the same at all other hospitals including Westmead and Auburn.’

Brett said 10 mental health beds had been closed across the WSAHS.

‘As a result, community mental health services across the area are stretched to breaking point – a situation made worse by the fact some staffing levels are down by as much as 50% in some community mental health teams.

‘This is also putting additional pressure on Emergency Departments as mental health patients are forced to rely on these facilities.

‘We should be opening more mental health beds, not closing them.’

He said community nursing positions are disappearing across the WSAHS and caseloads are almost impossible to manage.

‘Most case workers now have between 40 and 60 patients on their books, but can only devote about eight days a month to them because of the extra time they must spend on crisis work.

‘To make things even worse a significant shortage of cleaners is emerging across the WSAHS, and a lot of areas, including staff toilets, are not getting done or done on time.

‘The WSAHS really needs an urgent cash injection and it needs to start advertising for nurses immediately,’ Brett said.