More staff for Griffith

Public campaign takes ED off critical list

Skye Vagg
Skye Vagg

Griffith nurses have given their hospital and community an early Christmas present by winning more personnel for the dangerously under-staffed emergency department.A short public campaign by the NSW Nurses’ Association branch at Griffith Base Hospital achieved a guarantee of an extra registered nurse (RN) and a 24-hour ward clerk.The community campaign against unsafe staffing resulting in unreasonable workloads came after many years of unsuccessful submissions and requests to management.

‘Once we went public it took less than three weeks for management to agree to additional staff,’ said branch president Skye Vagg.

The 114-bed Griffith Base Hospital in southwest NSW is the referral hospital for residents across the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area.

Skye said the Murrumbidgee Local Health District agreed to employ an RN on an eight-hour swing shift seven days a week, to cover the peak period, and employ a night clerk to provide 24-hour clerical support.

‘This will make a huge difference and take a lot of pressure off nurses who have struggled to cope with a big increase in ED presentations in recent years. It means patients will be admitted in a safer environment.

‘The amount of sick leave in ED had almost doubled, they were having trouble keeping staff and the current skill mix had forced the in-charge nurses to do triage. People were frequently unable to take meal breaks.

‘In the past year the ED had 941 additional presentations with a significant increase in category 1-3 presentations. ED patients are staying longer, which means nurses are expected to do much more.’

Skye said nurses had been pushing for more staff in ED since 2004, including via the Reasonable Workloads Committee.

‘But we got to the point where we had to go out to the community to let them know what was going on,’ she said. ‘We drew up a petition, everyone took a bundle and put them around their local shops. The union printed some eye-catching flyers that we letterboxed, and we put up two big banners on the road near the emergency ambulance entrance saying, “Better Care for Griffith Emergency Department”.’

The union helped branch officials with media releases and speakers’ notes while television and the local newspaper covered the dispute. The branch sent a deputation to meet the local state MP and cabinet minister Adrian Piccoli.

During the campaign the local paper reported that a nine-year-old girl with near-fatal appendicitis was twice sent home from the ED. A Griffith councillor said many locals had come to him with ED horror stories.

Skye said strong community support for the nurses’ campaign helped achieve a quick result.

‘There is new management at the district level and they also deserve credit for helping to find a quick solution,’ she added.

Under the agreement with the union, management will employ agency nurses if it cannot quickly recruit a RN.

Skye said the branch was still concerned that enough nurses would be rostered on the weekend shifts.

‘We will have a trial period and review the situation in three months.’