NSWNMA members at the Forster Private Hospital, on the NSW mid north coast, have voted to only work in accordance with their contracted hours and decline the frequent requests to make themselves available for additional shifts, after hospital management announced last week it was sacking six nurses and reducing the hours worked by a seventh.
The nurses voted on Friday afternoon, 15 February, to take this action and it starts immediately.
The decision will have serious implications for the hospital, as the nurses normally work up to 2000 extra hours each month to fill current vacancies and other gaps in the nursing roster.
For example, over one fortnight in November last year the total contracted hours for nursing staff was 3059.2, which is equivalent to 40.3 fulltime-equivalent (FTE) staff. However, the total nursing hours worked over this period was 3941.39 or 51.9 FTE. Therefore, for this two-week period in November, the difference between what the hospital had (ie. contracted hours of nursing staff employed) and what it needed to staff the hospital (ie. nurses required to actually fill shifts available) was 11.6 FTE.
The March 2013 roster also highlights the extent of the staff shortages at Forster Private, with the rehabilitation unit roster showing seven vacant shifts for the period 6 March to 19 March. The acute-surgical unit has 11 morning and evening shifts and nine night shifts to fill during the same period.
NSWNMA general secretary, Brett Holmes, said the fact is this hospital could not run without the goodwill of the nurses who agree to work extra shifts, over and above the ones they are contracted to work.
“The hospital already has significant staff shortages, yet it decides to get rid of six nurses and reduce the hours of another. Just how does Pulse Health, which owns Forster Private, expect to maintain safe patient care?
“In its latest annual report it is also boasting about the recent opening of another 12 beds in the Forster rehabilitation unit. Just who is going to staff these beds? So we add 12 beds and sack six nurses. That is ridiculous. The unit is already looking to fill at least seven vacant nursing shifts in March without the loss of six staff.
“The nurses at Forster believe these sackings are revenge for their recent campaign to achieve a decent pay rise and get their pay rates closer to public hospital and nearby private hospital rates. If so, that is reckless management practice and is clearly putting private profit ahead of safe patient care.
“Pulse Health also bought a new facility recently and it looks like its nurses are being asked to make the sacrifice to help pay for it. Again that is inappropriate management practice in a healthcare environment, which is duty bound to provide safe care.
“Nurses themselves have a professional obligation to provide safe patient care. They can lose their right to practice as a nurse if they do not. So the nurses at Forster are right to take this decisive action to protect staffing levels at the hospital. With the nurses only working their contracted hours, and so many vacancies going unfilled, Forster Hospital management will simply have to reduce services to match the available nursing levels.
“This is a regrettable situation, but it is the only proper thing to do. When Pulse Health starts genuinely valuing its nurses, rather than just saying it does, and puts patient safety ahead of its profits then we might be able to get things back to normal.
“In an effort to get to the real reasons for the redundancies the NSWNMA will seek the assistance of the Fair Work Commission, as, so far, Pulse Health is only prepared to say the reasons are “commercial in confidence, but costs are a factor”. We believe the nurses and patients of Forster Private deserve the truth and some fairness,” Mr Holmes said.
Forster Private Hospital provides acute medical, surgical and rehabilitation services to the people of the Great Lakes area and beyond.
Pulse Health acquired the business, which was previously known as Cape Hawke Community Private Hospital, in April 2008.
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