Sunday 20th May 2007
Tourist numbers put hospital under pressure
Tomaree Community Hospital nurses fed up with extreme workloads won increased staffing for the Easter holiday period.
The NSW Industrial Relations Commission supported a staff increase resulting in more registered nurses being employed for morning and afternoon shifts – especially on the weekends – and additional on-call staff being trialled for night shift.
The Commission recommended the hospital’s Reasonable Workloads Committee continue to work towards determining adequate staffing needs for both peak and non-peak times.
Tomaree Hospital at Nelson Bay serves a permanent population of 22,500 and about 45,000 visitors at any given weekend year round. This tourist population further increases during peak holiday periods.
Yet nurses have been forced to justify the need for extra staff during holidays to management of Hunter New England Area Health Service, said NSWNA Assistant General Secretary Judith Kiejda.
For example, only two nurses per shift were rostered to cover the 14-bed medical ward and emergency department in the pre-Christmas holiday period. Judith said pressure from the NSWNA branch resulted in extra staff being provided at the last minute to cover the Christmas holidays.
Barbara Frost, a nurses’ rep on the workloads committee, said it was very hard to deal with a crisis when only two nurses were rostered on duty.
‘Sometimes we were seeing more patients than bigger hospitals in the area. We might see 50 people a day through the ED as well as looking after in-patients with high acuity and palliative care patients,’ Barbara said.
‘It is unsafe to leave the patients in the ward in order to triage and treat patients in the ED when there are only two staff on duty at any one time.’
The region’s high permanent population of retirees puts additional pressure on Tomaree Hospital.
Barbara said Tomaree nurses worked between 300-400 hours in addition to their rostered hours, each month for the past year.
‘All the staff are behind our push for a reasonable workload – we are very supportive of each other,’ she said.
Barbara said it was a long process to gather data to support the case for more staff.
Backed by NSWNA head office, the Tomaree branch was able to put a strong case to the Industrial Relations Commission. The branch had earlier agreed to impose bans on administrative work, but these did not go into effect because the commissioner asked nurses to withhold them.
Gary Spain, president of the Association branch at the hospital said the branch resolved to continue to work towards a positive and safe staffing level for the hospital through continued consultation with management and workload committee meetings.
He said specific numbers for various shifts were being negotiated as this issue of The Lamp went to press. The branch declared its support for all other rural hospitals in their continued battle for appropriate staffing levels.