Westmead members keep up the pressure

The threat of industrial action by nurses at Westmead Hospital forced management to address recruitment issues that were impacting on safe patient care.

The Westmead and Parramatta Branch of the NSWNA has achieved some success in its campaign to address recruitment issues at Westmead Hospital, and is continuing to put pressure on management to make further improvements.

Hospital management and Sydney West Area Health Service have agreed to reverse a decrease in weekend staffing levels on a cardiac ward; review staffing for the OPERA/HOPE unit and Eye Clinic; immediately advertise externally for admission clerks for the Birth Unit; and review Pharmacy Assistants services to ensure that nurses and midwives can do their jobs.

However, while these achievements are a positive move, there is still much to be done and the Branch will be keeping up the pressure for further recruitment issues to be addressed throughout the entire hospital.

‘One of our main concerns is the shortage of allied health professionals such as Pharmacy Assistants and admin staff because nurses are having to do this extra work,’ Acting Branch Secretary Leigh Bergan told The Lamp.

Members initially planned to hold a lunchtime rally on 15 July to draw attention to chronic staffing deficiencies across the hospital, and to carry out low-level industrial action.

This included members wearing Association campaign stickers advising visitors of the staffing levels across all wards and departments when sick leave or deficiencies cannot be replaced; midwives in the Birth Unit ceasing all but necessary paperwork; and staff opposing any  additional services at Westmead Hospital prior to all vacant positions being filled in the Emergency Department.

However, after management moved to address some of the members’ concerns and gave undertakings to resolve recruitment issues in some wards, members at Westmead held a barbecue instead of a rally and vowed to continue their campaign for more staff to be hired throughout the hospital. About 200 nurses came to the barbecue.

‘Nurses have been frustrated because they have not had a voice and these issues have been stewing away for 18 months,’ said Leigh. ‘It came to a point where staff felt they were being put at risk and it was compromising patient safety. Part of that is there are no guaranteed ratios.’

Leigh stressed the importance of having an NSWNA local Branch. ‘About three years ago the Westmead Branch almost folded. Now that it’s a functioning Branch we are starting to have our issues addressed. We concede there has been some improvement but it’s too little and we’d like a lot more to be done in terms of recruitment.’

NSWNA General Secretary Brett Holmes praised the Branch’s hard work and commitment to safe patient care. ‘This is a good victory by members at Westmead Hospital and shows the importance of having a local Branch to make sure management take nurses’ and midwives’ concerns seriously. But nurses and midwives should not have to resort to industrial action in order to ensure the delivery of safe patient care in the State’s largest health-care facility.

‘It can be seen that through the Reasonable Workloads Committee, the actions of the local Branch and some actions by management that we are achieving positive change, but there is a need to keep the momentum going. We know that recruitment is occurring too slowly, with managers only receiving approval to recruit to some of their vacancies, not all.

‘It’s important we keep the pressure on Area Health Services and the Government to mandate safe staffing levels in hospitals across NSW,’ said Brett.