Pay rebuff final insult for overworked Dubbo nurses

Work bans at Dubbo Base Hospital have achieved a commitment from management to address gruelling nurse workloads.

Goodwill drove theatre nurses at Dubbo Hospital to take on gruelling overtime to cover chronic understaffing in the surgery wards; but it was the NSW Government’s mean-spirited refusal of a decent pay rise that pushed them too far.

Members at Dubbo Base Hospital imposed works bans that achieved a commitment from management to address ongoing workload pressure on theatre nurses.

According to NSWNA delegate Rosemary Schwarz, members were forced to take action because patient and nurse safety was at risk due to chronic understaffing in the theatres.

‘For a number of years, nurses have had heavy workloads but the problem just exploded over the past few months. We were frantic every shift. Nurses were very stressed and morale was really low,’ she said.

A massive 516 hours overtime worked by nurses in March drove members to hold a crisis meeting where they agreed to implement work bans including refusal to work additional lists in theatres without adequate staffing and refusal to take on non-life-threatening cases after 9 pm on weekdays and 8 pm on weekends.

Following this action by the NSWNA Dubbo branch, management agreed to an extra two RNs each shift and an external review of theatre lists over the next four weeks. Nurses will be consulted over the terms of reference for the review and selection of the reviewer.

The NUM and evening Nurse Manager will also have the power to cancel any non-urgent cases and routine cases that will attract overtime, and will oversee self rostering to ensure a safe skill mix for each shift. It was also agreed that additional nursing staff will be recruited before extra theatre lists commence.

The branch agreed to lift the bans on the condition that nurse workloads are monitored on a weekly basis.

Rosemary said: ‘Out of a sense of goodwill, we took on overtime and missed out on meal breaks to take up the slack.

‘When the government refused to pay us a 4% pay rise, it was just the last straw. It showed us they have no respect for nurses. We felt we were just covering up the problems for them and we were being taken for granted.

‘What worries me is that we get new graduates who take one look and see how frantic and stressed we are and they say, “forget it, we don’t want to work here”.

‘The nursing workforce at the hospital is nearing 50 years of age. Who is going to replace us when the profession is so undervalued and overworked?’