Research reveals unrelenting pressure

NSWNA research reveals a picture of issues and concerns for nurses, helping form priorities for our up-and-coming public health system pay campaign.

It’s going to be a big year for nurses and their Union as a pay and conditions campaign in our public health system looms and as we turn up the heat for a better deal for the aged care sector.

Late last year the NSWNA conducted a series of focus groups, a comprehensive online survey of all members and Branch meetings to listen to your opinions on a range of relevant issues from the impact of the global financial crisis on nurses’ lives to contemporary life at the coal face of the health system.

Here is some of what you told us.

The impact of the economic downturn

Few nurses have experienced any personal impact from the economic downturn. Some nurses report extra household stress due to their partners losing shifts or jobs and have become more cautious about spending. Some older nurses have lost money on superannuation.

In the workplace nurses recognise that the economic downturn had added to the financial pressure on the health system and as a result there are fewer available resources (both equipment and staff). Nurses say they face constant demands from management to meet shrinking budgets.

  • 54% of nurses feel they are coping on their current incomes, while 24% are finding it difficult, with only 22% claiming to be living comfortably on their current income.
  • There is pessimism about the year ahead with 40% of nurses believing their personal financial situation will deteriorate either a little or a lot within the next 12 months. On the other hand, over half believe the economy will improve.
  • Over three-quarters of nurses felt either fairly or very secure in their jobs.
  • 40% of nurses feel the economic downturn has made the NSWNA more relevant to them.

The pressure cooker workplace

The demands on nurses are getting worse with increased workloads, staff shortages and rising patient acuity. Nurses reported a rise in aggression from patients and their families and a focus on budgets and ‘task-oriented nursing’ rather than patient care.

Nurses voiced concerns about how these factors impacted on patient safety and the safety of nursing staff. Many nurses say that patients are ‘falling through the gaps’ because nurses are too stretched to deal with all patient needs.

The survey revealed staunch support for the NSWNA to be a strong voice for the nursing profession and as an advocate for adequate staffing levels and skill mix.

  • 76% of nurses think it is extremely important and another 19% very important that the NSWNA is a strong voice for the nursing profession.
  • 72% thought it extremely important and another 20% very important that the NSWNA advocate for adequate staffing levels and skills mix.
  • Improved staffing levels is seen as the most effective way to improve workloads.

Workloads threaten safety

The research indicates that the current public health system workload tool is of limited effectiveness in dealing with workload issues. Only 12% of nurses know of the workload committee in their workplace achieving anything within the past 12 months; 27% were unsure if their workplace even has a workload committee.

  • 61% of all nurses surveyed believe that staffing levels are insufficient at their workplace.
  • Only 59% of nurses believe their workplace is safe or mostly safe given the staffing levels.
  • 28% of nurses believe that the skill mix was not good enough on most shifts and 58% of these felt that patients were either mostly or always unsafe.

Widespread support for aged care campaign

Aged care nurses feel undervalued by the public and the wider nursing profession. They do feel recognised by nursing home residents and their families. They stay in their jobs because they are committed to their work and care for their patients.

  • 90% of aged care nurses are aware the NSWNA has been running an aged care campaign.
  • Around two-thirds of aged care nurses feel the Because we care campaign has been effective in promoting the relevance of the aged care sector and improving recognition for aged care nurses.
  • 75% of aged care nurses believe that an Enterprise Agreement is extremely important or very important.

Loyal to your union

The survey indicates strong levels of interaction by members with the NSWNA and general satisfaction with the Union’s work and the level of communication. Relatively high levels of members had called the Association by phone (52%), spoken with an official from work (48%) or attended a workplace meeting (46%) in the past year.

There was a high level of awareness and satisfaction with key NSWNA campaigns, with the Your Rights At Work the most popular.

  • 37% of members thought it was extremely important and another 35% very important to belong to the NSW Nurses’ Association.
  • 77% of nurses believe their Union dues represent fair, good or excellent value for money.
  • 17% were extremely satisfied, 45% very satisfied and 28% fairly satisfied with the Your Rights At Work/Nurses Rights At Work campaign.
  • In the past year virtually all nurses (97%) have read The Lamp and 73% believe it to be extremely useful or very useful.

How & when to get involved

The NSWNA will be holding several forums, meetings and training days throughout February for public health system manager members to have a say about the new award, or learn how to get involved more effectively.

  • 16 February, Forum for NUMs at NSWNA premises, 5pm.
  • 17 February, Forum for NMs at NSWNA, 5pm
  • 25 February, Forum for NMs at Riverside Theatre, Parramatta, 5pm.
  • 11-12, 24-25 February, 3-4, 11-12, 17-18 March, ‘Safe Patient Care and Your Workload’, Branch Official and Activist Training (BOAT).
  • Organisers will also be visiting many public hospital facilities.