Nepean members win more staff

Debbie Renshaw
Debbie Renshaw

A decision to cap patient numbers and stop work seems to have put an end to chronic understaffing in the maternity unit.

A decision by nurses and midwives to limit the number of new maternity patients at Nepean Hospital has forced management to approve additional staff for its under-strength maternity service.

A total of 21 full-time equivalent (FTE) positions have been added to the service’s staff profile and nurses will work jointly with management to look at models of care and recruitment efforts. The assistant secretary of the NSWNMA branch at Nepean Hospital,

Debbie Renshaw, said nurses were generally happy with the new staffing profile, which has more staff for all maternity wards except antenatal.

“We would not have achieved this result without being prepared to cap patient numbers and take other action,” Debbie said.

She said negotiations were continuing over management’s “ridiculous” claim that the antenatal ward was overstaffed.

The branch put staff shortages on the agenda last year, but nurses’ concerns were not taken seriously until March this year when a blaze of negative publicity hit the hospital. A Sydney newspaper reported that a pregnant woman was sent away from the hospital without any medical assessment and later gave birth in the hospital car park. Two days later another woman was sent home and gave birth on her kitchen floor.

In March, management admitted there had been a Birthrate Plus miscalculation and the maternity service was short 21 full-time staff. However they refused to provide a new staffing profile or detail appropriate recruitment plans.

Judith Kiejda, the Association’s Assistant General Secretary, said: “Not only are Nepean staff exhausted, they are deeply concerned that health care is being compromised. They have reached their limit and cannot continue in this way.”

On May 23, a unanimous branch resolution warned: “Due to the critical staffing shortages across the entire service we are deeply concerned for the women and babies who are reliant on our care. To ensure their safety we have no choice but to limit the number of new maternity patients who enroll, until we are appropriately staffed.”

The branch agreed that from June 3 all new, low-risk, antenatal patients from outside the geographical area would be referred to a public hospital within their own catchment.

All current maternity patients would continue to be treated at Nepean Hospital and no high-risk or emergency obstetric patients would be denied care.

“We are forced to this position with the greatest regret for our community. We urge management to progress and recruit midwives against the vacancies as an absolute priority,” the resolution said.

On June 3 the branch agreed not to cap services, pending further negotiations, while reserving the right to take action if talks broke down. However management still refused to provide a ward-based breakdown of the new staffing profile, so on June 12 the branch voted to hold a secret ballot of nurses to approve a four-hour stop work meeting on June 25.

On June 17 management provided the ward-based breakdown of staffing profiles and agreed to backfill vacancies. On June 19 members voted to call off industrial action.

Debbie Renshaw said the branch asked for the post-natal ward to be given priority in staff recruitment, as they were short 11 FTE midwives.

“They have been working short for a long time; they are very stressed and midwives are crying almost on a daily basis. They are frustrated because they can’t give patients the care they deserve.”