Limit on non-urgent referrals

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Management of the Tweed Heads Community Health Centre has placed restrictions on new non-urgent cases in an effort to reduce mounting demands on community nurses.

“At the moment every referral to community nurses is being weighed up on a case-by-case basis because of the excessive demand,” Zoe Guinea, a Clinical Nurse Specialist in Transitional Aged Care Services told The Lamp.

“Management has basically closed the books on non-urgent community cases,” Zoe, who is president of the Tweed Heads Community Nurses branch of the NSWNA said.

“The Tweed area has seen no net increase in nursing staff in 15 years yet the population has grown by 5% per year.

“Acuity has also increased because the population is ageing fast – we’re God’s waiting room up here.”

Zoe said community nurses working in the Tweed, in the northeast corner of New South Wales, often missed lunch breaks and were unable to finish their tasks without working excessively long hours, due to extreme patient demand.

“Our NUM is very supportive of the nurses but she has her own service demand issues. She looks after 15 different cost codes. She hasn’t got a clerical assistant and is run off her feet.

“One problem is the length of time it takes to recruit someone in the North Coast Local Health District. Head office tries to save money by taking forever to sign off on a position.

“We are haemorrhaging people across the Queensland border because our recruitment processes are so ridiculously slow. Nurses can’t afford to sit around for months waiting for a job to be signed off.”

She said the NSWNA had to go to the Reasonable Workload Committee to get management to recruit a nurse to fill a vacancy caused through promotion.

“We finally got the position filled after waiting a year or so while making do with casuals, which depleted the casual pool.”

Zoe said local community nurses joined with hospital nurses in taking industrial action for the union’s 2010 claims such as restricting work to urgent cases.

Hospital nurses did well out of that campaign but community nurses did not get a staffing solution in the form of staff-to-patient ratios.

Zoe said local community nurses felt “more empowered” after a recent visit to the Tweed region by a NSWNA team headed by Assistant General Secretary, Judith Kiejda.

“There is now a bit of a groundswell to take action for reasonable, safe staffing – community nurses feel they’re not going to take it any more.”