Leave cover is top priority

Work assignments will be the main agenda item at the next meeting of the newly formed Richmond Network community nurses’ branch of the NSWNA.

Providing “backfill” for planned leave is the most pressing issue, said branch secretary Sharon Whalley.

Sharon, a Clinical Nurse Educator, said efforts to replace staff on leave were hampered by a dwindling pool of casuals.

“Community nurses tend to take on the extra load and do their best because patients are their priority. However that can put their health at risk and means there is not enough time to deliver good patient care,” she said.

“For example, a generalist community nurse will go into someone’s home, change a dressing and leave because they’ve got 12 more patients to see. They won’t have time to do any health education to promote wound healing.

“Nurse-to-patient ratios don’t work in community health and yet we have no set number of hours to determine how much direct clinical contact time and travel time is reasonable in an eight-hour day.

“We need to find a solution to provide safe staffing because community nursing plays a vital role in helping to keep people out of hospital.”

Sharon thinks most members of the public see health care as ‘hospitals only’ and are unaware of the range of health care agencies.

“Anyone who has had contact with community health thinks it’s a wonderful service.”

Richmond Network covers parts of northeast New South Wales including Evans Head, Ballina, Goonellabah, Alstonville, Lismore and Casino.

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Health services in numbers

health-chartAmong the eight former NSW area health services, the North Coast Area has:

  • The highest proportion of people aged 65 years and over, making up 18% of the population in 2006 compared to the NSW average of 14%. It is predicted that this age group will increase to 23% of the North Coast population by 2016.
  • The highest proportion of low-income (<$500/week) households (18% compared to NSW average 12%)
  • The highest proportion of population on disability/sickness benefits (13% compared with NSW average 8%)
  • The highest proportion of workforce on unemployment benefits (8% compared with NSW average 5%)
  • The highest level of one-parent families (19% compared with NSW average 16%)
  • The highest proportion of families with dependent children receiving parenting payments (23% compared with NSW average 14%).