Staffing win at new Bathurst Hospital

Management backdown averts PR blunder.

NSW Health narrowly avoided a public relations embarrassment in the shape of a nurses’ stop-work meeting on the opening day of Bathurst’s new $97 million hospital.

Nurses agreed to call off a stoppage scheduled for Monday 21 January after management of Greater Western Area Health Service accepted their demands for extra staff late on the previous Friday.

‘It went right down to the wire,’ said Nurses’ Association branch secretary Cheryl O’Brien. ‘I was handing out flyers advertising the stoppage when I was told management had finally agreed to provide the numbers and requested an urgent meeting with us.’

Cheryl said the branch had been asking to see a staffing profile for the new and bigger hospital since May last year.

Management was also slow to reveal the results of a nursing and medical review of the ED that nurses had also demanded.

The Association advised the GWAHS that we were in dispute and intended to have a stop-work meeting on Monday.

The Association branch met three times in the week before the opening and made it clear they would call a stoppage at 11am on Monday if extra staff were not guaranteed.

‘Management knew we were tired of being fobbed off but they waited until the last minute to come up with an acceptable response,’ Cheryl said.

‘If the nurses hadn’t taken a strong position the new hospital would have opened with a serious staff shortfall.’
Management agreed to give Bathurst Hospital the following additional staff:

  • Emergency Department: two RNs on night shift rather than an RN and EN, and an extra EN and RN on day shift with extended hours.
  • ICU: one extra nurse on each shift.
  • Medical ward: One more nurse on every shift plus a guarantee of a fourth nurse on night duty if patient numbers go above 25.
  • Maternity unit: An additional nurse on every shift plus extra management hours for nurse unit managers.
  • Paediatrics: Two nurses will be maintained on each shift rather than one as management proposed.
  • Surgical ward: Bed numbers are lower than in the old hospital but staff levels will be maintained temporarily pending a review.

Management also agreed to meet weekly with the Reasonable Workloads Committee in the new hospital’s first month of operation, in order to review staff levels.

‘Even with increased staff numbers there are still problems,’ Cheryl said. ‘The skill mix isn’t right but we will keep working to achieve a solution.

‘Staff are still doing an enormous amount of overtime and part-time people are picking up a lot of extra shifts to help fill the gaps. We just can’t keep going like that so they will need to recruit permanents and casual staff.’

 

The hospital was built ahead of schedule but many patients questioned whether the move from the old facility happened too soon, before it was adequately commissioned.

Patients twice had to be evacuated – from the maternity unit around 2am and, on a subsequent day, from the medical ward – after sewage spilled onto floors apparently because of blocked and leaking pipes.

One affected patient interviewed by the Western Advocate newspaper described the nurses’ response to the sewage spill and evacuation from maternity as ‘fantastic’, adding: ‘I don’t think it is appropriate for such pressure to be placed on nursing and domestic staff.’

Bedside phones and televisions have not yet been installed and mobile phone reception will remain difficult until a new telephone tower is finished, possibly in March.

Beds may be closed, nurses warn

Despite management agreeing to fix Bathurst Hospital’s staff shortage (see main story) nurses were again forced to take action on the issue.

Medical ward nurses were twice obliged to inform management they could not take any more patients without extra staff. On both occasions more staff were brought in along with the additional patients.

Nurses then called a meeting of the NSWNA branch at the hospital and passed a resolution calling on management to urgently start recruiting staff rather than drawing them from the dwindling pool of casuals. Reliance on the casual pool was creating serious problems with the skill mix on wards, nurses said. The resolution gave management a week to initiate a recruitment drive or face action to reduce admissions and close beds.

Latest reports said management had acted immediately to begin recruitment.