Local MP goes missing in hospital row

Muswellbrook district Hospital nurses, locked in a dispute over unsafe staffing, sought a meeting with their state MP George Souris, member for the Upper Hunter.

A phone call and email failed to achieve an appointment so the local branch of the NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association held a rally outside Mr Souris’ electorate office, calling on him to meet them and support their case for one extra nurse in the emergency department.

On several shifts, including Saturday nights, one lone nurse must look after an emergency department and a special care unit, in separate rooms divided by a corridor, a situation that is dangerous to patients and staff.

After 10 weeks the nurses finally got an audience with Mr Souris, but were astonished to discover he had invited the general manager of the Upper Hunter Cluster, Debbie Jaggers, to be present as well.

Mr Souris apparently expected the nurses to frankly discuss the state of the hospital in the presence of their boss, without fear of repercussion.

Some of the nurses said they felt like walking straight out of Mr Souris’ office when they found the GM waiting for them.

“We had worked fairly hard to get that appointment, including collecting 1500 signatures from local residents in our support, and we didn’t want to leave without making sure we put our message across,” Muswellbrook Hospital branch secretary Adrian King RN told The Lamp.

“We asked Mr Souris to ask the health minister to consider our concerns about patient and staff safety. He said he had done it twice already, that both he and the health minister had spoken to the GM, and we had to work things out with management – something we have been trying to do for two years.”   Mr Souris appeared irritated that the nurses had rallied outside his office, chanting “one more nurse, safety comes first”, and that 58 people sent him text messages demanding “one more nurse”.   “He said he would like to help us but there was nothing more he could do. It felt like the meeting was a waste of time,” Adrian said.Not the result one might expect, given that the National Party hails Mr Souris as “a staunch, persistent and active member of The Nationals, determined to give the residents of his Upper Hunter electorate and the people of New South Wales a better way of life under a Liberal/Nationals Coalition Government.”

The residents of Muswellbrook, population 17,000, have shown their clear support for the nurses: 1500 signatures on a petition, more than 100 at a protest meeting at the local RSL, and more activities planned.

“The nurses are concerned Mr Souris is listening to hospital management and not to them or the wider community,” NSWNMA Assistant General Secretary Judith Kiejda said. “They are still hoping he will support the community in this perfectly reasonable call for one more nurse.”