Nurse attack

Nurses at Cumberland psychiatric hospital drew a line in the sand against unsafe staffing when a patient knocked nurse Ariel Guzman unconscious.
Nurses at Cumberland psychiatric hospital drew a line in the sand against unsafe staffing when a patient knocked nurse Ariel Guzman unconscious.

With Ariel hospitalised for 12 days with a brain haemorrhage – including five days in a high dependency neuro-trauma unit – his fellow members of the NSW Nurses’ Association acted to reverse dangerously low staffing levels.They threatened to shut four beds at the Yaralla intensive care unit where the assault took place, unless management agreed to reduce bed numbers and roster more staff.

Within a week management had agreed to close two beds, down from 16 to 14, and put an extra nurse on the morning and evening shifts. This raises Yaralla to a 1:2 staffing ratio, matching other psychiatric intensive care units in NSW.

NSWNA General Secretary, Brett Holmes, said management had kept Yaralla staffed at one nurse for every three patients despite the obvious risk to staff and patients.

‘Inadequate staffing contributed to a series of assaults on nurses. The attack on Ariel Guzman, in which two security guards and another patient were also assaulted, was the latest and very serious example,’ Brett said.

The NSWNA wants a further two beds in the unit closed and has given the Sydney West Area Mental Health Service 30 days to reply to the request.

The secretary of the Western Sydney Mental Health Nurse Manager’s branch, Debbie Malcolm, said: ‘If we don’t receive an appropriate response within that time frame we will go ahead and close two more beds.’

‘The members are pretty determined. This has been an issue for several years and we’ve basically been ignored.’

She said two more beds need to be shut because of the acuity of patients and the size and layout of the unit, which was not purpose-built.

‘The facility is not appropriate to be used as an ICU – it is very old and falling apart. We don’t have areas to separate patients to give them time out and space away from other patients.’

Cumberland Hospital nurses have been voicing concerns about staffing since 2005, when Yaralla began to take patients from three other hospitals, as well as Cumberland, as a result of Area Health Service amalgamations. While the number of admissions and seriously ill patients increased, staffing did not.

‘It was beyond a joke, we didn’t have the space and we certainly didn’t have the staff to accommodate 16 patients at that level of acuity,’ Debbie said Nurses repeatedly raised concerns and made requests about staffing, including through the NSWNA branch and Reasonable Workloads Committee. It took the late September assault on Ariel Guzman for senior management to take them seriously

‘We had always been given the response that there was no funding for extra staff or a rebuild but, at end of day, senior management have an obligation under the Occupational Health and Safety Act to ensure our safety,’ she said.