Strong support for Westmead bans

Leigh Bergan
Leigh Bergan

Members unanimously endorse bed closures in a campaign for safe staffing at one of NSW’s biggest hospitals.Westmead Hospital nurses have called off scheduled industrial action following a last-minute management offer to roster more staff.

A meeting of the hospital’s NSWNA branch, attended by more than 140 nurses, had voted unanimously to start industrial action on November 15.

Management’s offer to adequately staff the maternity unit and a surgical ward came on the same day.

The nurses’ scheduled action included closing five beds in the B3C colorectal and upper gastrointestinal surgical ward.

They also had voted not to accept any more bookings for the maternity ward from women outside the hospital’s designated catchment area, which includes the Parramatta, The Hills and Holroyd local government areas.

The assistant secretary and delegate of the union’s Westmead/Parramatta branch, Leigh Bergan, said the hospital’s top management offered to get enough staff to fill rosters for the next four weeks.

‘Therefore we agreed to suspend our planned action and we are continuing to monitor the situation,’ Leigh said.

Meanwhile management is seeking to recruit more nurses and has written to the Ministry of Health outlining the number and status of current vacancies.

Leigh said the huge turnout at the recent branch meeting (more than 140 members) showed nurses were determined to ensure the hospital – one of Sydney’s busiest – was adequately staffed.

‘The unanimous vote in favour of closing beds shows people are really jacked off, because the problem is not being dealt with,’ he said.

He said the branch had concerns about unsafe staffing levels throughout the hospital, with the maternity unit and B3C surgical ward the current focus of attention.

NSWNA General Secretary Brett Holmes said the Westmead maternity unit has only 135 FTE nurses and midwives when it should have 152 to meet the safer staffing ratios agreed between the union and the state government.

‘The situation is made worse by the fact that 18 of those 135 positions are currently vacant and the roster is constantly struggling to fill them,’ Brett said.

He said the 37-bed B3C ward had 11 FTE nurse vacancies, which are filled, often at the last minute, by casual and agency nurses.

‘This busy and complex ward had to rely on more than 230 hours in paid overtime and a lot of unpaid overtime in the last month to fill the many holes in the roster. I am told the morning shift can’t always fill all vacancies, with the nursing unit manager and clinical nurse educator often having to fill in.

‘And this is with a staffing establishment of one nurse to nearly five patients on the morning and evening shifts, when it really should be at one to four and will go to one to four when the new, safer staffing arrangements, agreed between the NSWNA and state government, are fully implemented.

‘That will require an extra eight FTE nurses in addition to the current 11 vacancies. So they really need to find 19 nurses for this one ward alone.’