Concord members win ‘Nurse Bank’

A big public rally over unsafe staffing has helped to persuade management to fill vacant nursing positions.

Concord Hospital will get more nurses to help ease a severe staff shortage, thanks to a campaign by the hospital’s NSWNMA branch.

The branch has been campaigning for about a year to get long-standing vacancies filled.

Sydney Local Health District has agreed to employ another 10 FTE (full-time equivalent) registered nurses and five FTE enrolled nurses at Concord Hospital.

The recruits will form a pool of permanently employed nurses that will operate as a “Nurse Bank” to help fill gaps in rosters across all wards.

Advertisements for these positions have been posted.

LHD management finally agreed to employ more nurses after the branch organised a big lunchtime rally outside the hospital.

In July, the branch carried a resolution that called on management to stop the unsafe practice of opening extra beds without extra staff.

“The branch does not support surging of wards when there is insufficient skilled staff to safely cover the shift and subsequent shifts,” the resolution said.

The following month, a branch meeting attended by 95 members called for:

  • surge beds not to be opened without sufficient staff numbers, or correct skill mix
  • no more replacement of RN shifts with AiNs (assistants in nursing)
  • permanent and temporary vacancies to be filled urgently.

The meeting unanimously voted to hold a lunchtime rally to inform the community about inadequate staffing.

155 nurses attend rally

The resolution said the branch would escalate a community awareness campaign until staffing levels were made safe.

About 155 nurses attended the rally, which was addressed by NSWNMA General Secretary Brett Holmes, Branch President Katina Skylas, Branch Secretary Rebecca Phair, other staff members and patients.

Brett Holmes said an increase in presentations had led the hospital to regularly open extra beds without employing additional staff.

As a result, the hospital was relying heavily on RNs being replaced by AiNs, overtime and casual staff.

An increase in the number of patients needing one-to-one care, known as specialling, had added to pressure on nurses.

These patients were often being specialled within staffing numbers and often resulted in other patients getting less care.

Brett said nurses felt let down by the LHD, which had failed to adequately address their concerns or offer any long-term solutions.

“With increasing workloads and little relief, our members are experiencing fatigue and burn-out. They want to provide the best care possible, but they feel management has not supported them,” he said.

After the rally, the branch voted to ask for a meeting with senior LHD management.

The branch resolution said that if that meeting did not result in suitable solutions, members would vote on industrial action including a stopwork meeting.

Management agree to 15 extra permanent staff

At negotiations following the rally, branch members told management that understaffing had led to an increase in the number of falls, medication errors, pressure injuries and complaints from patients’ families about delays in providing care.

Members said senior nursing staff such as NUMs, CNCs and CNEs regularly worked on the floor to support their colleagues due to poor staffing and skill mix, with wards dangerously over-reliant on AiNs.

They said that supplying staff with the wrong skills was not assisting nurses to maintain safe patient care and reasonable workloads.

At the negotiations, manage-ment agreed to employ another 15 permanent staff, boost the casual pool of RNs and fill roster vacancies earlier.

Branch Secretary Rebecca Phair said the well-attended branch meetings and rally showed nurses felt strongly about staffing issues and were determined to act to 
win improvements.

Rebecca said members hoped that the creation of a “Nurse Bank” would reduce reliance on over-time and use of AiNs to fill vacant RN positions.

“We hope the Nurse Bank RNs and ENs can be allocated to fill vacancies before rosters are posted. Fifteen extra nurses won’t be enough to solve all the problems related to understaffing, but it is a good starting point and they will certainly help,” she said.

“Only two wards have AiNs in their staffing profile, yet most of the staff replacements we have been getting are AiNs.

“A shift that is supposed to have seven RNs might end up with four RNs and three AiNs.

“This has been very stressful for the RNs who effectively have to look after two lots of patients.”

Rebecca said CNEs and other senior clinicians had to work on the floor partly because they were needed to manage the work of AiNs.