Coffs Mental Health Nurses The Latest To Act On Unsafe Staffing

Six mental health beds to be closed as staff vacancies take their toll….

NSW Nurses Association (NSWNA) members at the Coffs Harbour Mental Health Unit are the latest to take action over serious staff shortages that are putting staff and patients at risk.

In response to ongoing nursing staff shortages and excessive overtime they will this week start closing six beds in the 30-bed acute mental health unit – two high dependency beds and four acute/sub-acute beds – to ensure only those beds that can be safely staffed remain open.

This latest staffing action by nurses follows similar recent action by nurses and midwives at facilities such as Lismore Base, Bathurst, Orange and Cobar hospitals.

The Coffs Harbour nurses believe the mental health unit should have eight nurses on the morning and afternoon shifts and four on the night shift. At the moment it has a roster of seven on the morning and afternoon shifts and four on the night shift. The nurses are seeking the current staffing plus a supernumerary Nurse Unit Manager on the morning and evening shifts.

However, because of unfilled nursing vacancies at the facility the current roster is itself being filled through the use of excessive overtime and the diversion of the Nurse Unit Manager into a clinical role.

Over the weekend the nurses rejected a management offer to provide extra security staff, while they tried to recruit extra nurses, because:

  • it is an acute mental health setting, which must offer therapeutic treatment to the patients and, therefore, the most appropriate staffing needs to be nurses;
  • filling nursing positions with a security guard does not reduce staff workload on the unit and means the Nurse Unit Manager would still need to take a patient load; and
  • of their concerns the security staff supplied would not be officers experienced in the mental health setting, which would further increase nursing workloads because of the need to provide guidance to inexperienced security staff.

NSWNA general secretary, Brett Holmes, said the Coffs Harbour unit cannot provide adequate nurses to cover the current inadequate roster of seven, seven and four, without nurses doing two to four overtimes in a fortnight pay period.

“There are currently up to six long-term nursing vacancies at the unit, when all categories of vacancy are counted. Recruitment to these positions has been difficult, but management has also been slow with the recruitment process. In response to this nurse-to-patient ratio action by the nurses management has swung into action to some extent.

“The fact is, the current workloads are excessive and unsafe and until the vacancies are filled bed numbers need to be better aligned with staff numbers. For example, there have been five injuries to nurses in the last two weeks.

“The nurses cannot keep up the current level of overtime and double shifts. They are burning out and many are considering leaving, which would make the vacancy situation worse.

“The safest thing to do, for all concerned, is to take this action while recruitment efforts are beefed up. The six beds will be closed as the current occupants are discharged,” Mr Holmes said.

Join over 77,000 nurses and midwives in NSW by becoming a valued member today.

You’ll automatically become a member of the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation