Redundancy plan a threat to workloads and safety

Union seeks talks over redundancy offers.

The NSW Nurses’ Association is seeking agreement with Area Health Services on a process of implementing voluntary redundancies, including consultation with nurse managers.

The Union wants to ensure offers of redundancy do not reduce ward skill levels and put more pressure on nurses who remain.

The NSWNA succeeded in stopping Greater Southern Area Health Service from processing voluntary redundancies last month, after notifying a dispute to the Industrial Relations Commission.

At least four area health services – Greater Southern, Sydney West, North Coast and Greater Western – have called for expressions of interest for voluntary redundancies across all staff categories.

NSWNA General Secretary Brett Holmes said the Union went to the IRC because Greater Southern AHS breached the Public Health System Nurses’ and Midwives’ (State) Award and its own policy by failing to consult with the union about the process of offering redundancies, and their possible effects.

Brett said the Garling inquiry into acute care services stressed the crucial role of experienced nurses in providing adequate patient care and training for the next generation of nurses.

‘It is difficult to see how voluntary redundancies, which will increase workloads, reduce skill levels and put more pressure on the nurses who remain, are consistent with Garling’s recommendations,’ he said.

Similarly, a 2007 Sydney University of Technology study commissioned by the Health Department showed that higher numbers of skilled and qualified staff resulted in better patient outcomes.

Brett said it was essential that the senior nurses in charge of wards are allowed input into the redundancy process.

‘The Department has sanctioned an across-the-board offer of voluntary redundancies but the effects will vary according to the staffing situation in individual units.

‘This means senior nurses, such as NUMs who are responsible for managing a ward, must be consulted about the appropriate skill mix for their ward and how redundancies might impact on that.’

Brett said NSW Health should not use voluntary redundancies as a backdoor means of replacing experienced and highly qualified nurses with unlicensed Assistants in Nursing.

‘There is a valuable role for classifications such as AiNs but the mix of skills on a ward should be based on the needs of the ward, not the budget.

‘NUMs should not be forced to put AiNs into jobs that should be filled by RNs just because area management decides to save money by reducing RN positions.’

At Byron Bay District Hospital, which has a 26-bed general ward with 24-hour emergency service, NUM Liz McCall agrees that the effects of voluntary redundancies ought to be discussed before they are issued.

‘The problem with redundancies is that if they are approved, the position disappears. There needs to be discussion with the local NSWNA branch and on a wider scale the union as a whole, to ascertain whether or not it’s appropriate to delete that position,’ Liz said.

‘The area management needs to talk to nurse managers about safe staffing levels and skill mix, because we are the ones who know what skill mix we need.’

Liz is NUM of the ward and the emergency department and is responsible for staffing. She shares administration of the ED with a nurse manager and works there herself when required.

‘We only have four nurses on morning and evening shifts and three on night duty. We never have AiNs or ENs on nights because of our needs in ED. On the other two shifts I can only accommodate one EN or a new graduate because of our needs in the ED,’ she said.

‘If a RN or EN position were to be replaced with an AiN, that would be absolute dynamite for Byron Hospital.

‘At Byron, our skill mix is so fragile that if a RN or EN was given voluntary redundancy and they slotted an AiN into that position it would be totally untenable in terms of patient safety.’