Strong campaign beats the heat at John Hunter

Measures are underway to put an end to nurses and patients sweltering in the wards

In January this year – when ward temperatures hit 48 degrees and bushfires burnt just five metres from the hospital walls – nurses at John Hunter Hospital decided to demand air conditioning.

NSWNA members had unsuccessfully raised the issue with management year after year – this time nurses were determined to get a result.

Faced with a powerful campaign from nurses and the NSWNA, management agreed that air conditioning was required.

The NSW Government kicked in with $8.9 million to fund full air conditioning for the Newcastle hospital.

An implementation committee was established to plan and oversee the huge task of installing air conditioning in a major city hospital.

The installation began in October and will take a full 12 months.

In the interim, several measures will alleviate heat stress on days where the ward temperatures exceed 30 degrees:

  • A cool room has been created for every ward for use by staff, patients and visitors;
  • Management has also agreed to paid rest breaks for staff when ward temperatures exceed 30 degrees;
  • Nurses will be able to wear suitable non-uniform items, like white cotton shirts, on very hot days;
  • Management will supply easily accessible packaged water for staff, patients and visitors.

The air conditioning is being installed ward-by-ward. Each ward will be moved temporarily at some stage during the process.

This summer will be considerably kinder to patients, staff and visitors – thanks to the interim measures. And the summer of 2007-2008 will see John Hunter as a fully air conditioned hospital.

‘We handed out ice blocks’

‘The heat has been an issue since John Hunter opened 15 years ago.  We are the only tertiary referral hospital in NSW that is not fully air conditioned.

We take the sickest people from our catchment area – serious cardiac cases, children in traction for months – and the last thing they need is to have to sweat it out.

This year we won because we ran a fantastic campaign and had public support. It was also a particularly hot summer and the hospital almost caught fire.

We used the area health service’s own OHS policy to prove that the hospital was not providing us with a safe and healthy working environment.

When John Hunter celebrated its 15th birthday last summer, we were out the front handing out ice blocks and a copy of the OHS policy to visitors. After that, a lot of people wrote to management supporting air conditioning.

We also got a lot of favourable media coverage and that helped win the campaign.

Management has worked well with the NSWNA to implement the change. We meet with them weekly.’