Buried under ‘paperwork’

Top nurses diverted from patient care.

Ordering supplies of toilet paper, foam cups and razors doesn’t sound like a job for one of the most qualified nurses in a hospital.

Yet mundane administrative tasks such as these are being piled onto nurse unit managers like Alan Pretty of Port Macquarie Base Hospital’s emergency department.

Alan says he and other NUMs would rather be doing the job they are trained to do – coordinate, supervise and lead the nursing staff to deliver the best possible patient care.

At Port Macquarie Hospital, ordering stores and pharmaceuticals is one of many duties once handled by area office but now passed down to nurse managers.

‘For example, there is no longer a functional area human resources department,’ Alan says. ‘Jobs like recruiting staff and organising vaccination screening have fallen back on the NUMs, and the recruitment process is enormously labour-intensive.

‘NUMs in this hospital probably put in an extra eight hours or more a week, unpaid, just to keep up with the administrative chores.

‘NUMs take a unit under their wing and want to see it succeed. They’re in the position because they like it but they don’t like all these extra tasks being dumped on them.’

Alan resents the need to collect and input large amounts of data to prove to area management that his unit needs more staff.

Port Macquarie nurses recently won approval for additional ED staff, after a strong campaign by the local branch of the NSW Nurses’ Association.

‘To get that result, nurses came in on their days off to collect and analyse staffing data,’ Alan said. ‘I had to write three or four business briefs to area management, using a template I hadn’t been trained to use.

‘I wrote a brief with data showing the position and management asked for more data. We went away and got it, I wrote another brief and they said, give us more data.

‘Eventually I said, “I’ve had enough of trying to give you data; the picture is fairly clear to me”, so we went down the track of calling in the union for assistance, which was very helpful.’

Computerised staff management systems such as ProAct are taking up more and more of the NUMs’ time.

‘I could be on ProAct for up to an hour and a half each day, inputting codes and notes and pulling sick leave and other reports required by area office.’

Alan is a clinical NUM yet finds it increasingly difficult to spend time on the wards necessary to encourage and develop staff.

‘The ED is getting busier, older nurses are retiring, the skill mix is getting more diluted and the demands on nursing staff are higher than ever.

‘But I’m called away from the department to attend lots of meetings because everyone has a piece of the ED. So I go to paediatric meetings, mental health meetings, disaster meetings, infection control meetings, hospital escalation plan meetings.

‘I have to type up records of every meeting myself because I’ve got no clerical support.

‘It is hard for the NUM to appreciate the nursing staff because you’re not there much of the time. How can I reward them for great work when I’m always flat out myself?