ED nurses ‘stretched beyond limits’ in John Hunter Hospital

Excessive overtime and unsafe staffing inside John Hunter Hospital’s emergency department (ED) has prompted grave concerns for patient safety as the busy summer holiday period begins.

Today, NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association (NSWNMA) members and supporters gathered outside the hospital to raise community awareness of the staffing issues, after Hunter New England Local Health District (HNE LHD) was unwilling to address the concerns urgently.

NSWNMA Assistant General Secretary, Shaye Candish, said an open letter signed by 500 ED clinicians and supporting services was submitted to the Chief Executive in July, yet many issues continued to plague the ED.

“Our members outlined the need for safer working conditions and identified eight reasonable staffing requirements to significantly improve patient outcomes in the ED,” said Ms Candish.

“Rather than seriously consider these improvements the concerns have been rebuffed yet again, leaving an already fatigued nursing workforce to feel unsupported and rejected.”

NSWNMA John Hunter and John Hunter Children’s Hospital Branch delegate and ED nurse, Kieran Patterson, said after responding tirelessly to the pandemic to keep the community safe, ED nurses were still being stretched beyond their limits and were fed up.

“We’ve had nurses working shifts of up to 18 hours in the ED, while others have been required to work significant overtime to cover regular sick leave and rostering shortfalls,” said Ms Patterson.

“In one case, a registered nurse worked 11 days straight, including 12-hour shifts. The amount of overtime and unsafe staffing has prompted many senior staff to find other employment. Our clinicians are some of the hardest working in the state, but we are burnt out and tired.”

Branch steward and ED nurse, Keely Parkes, said with significant numbers of presentations, patients were often forced to wait for treatment in corridors or the emergency entrance.

“This is obviously unsafe for our patients and their families. We believe the upcoming closure and scaling back of the GP Access After Hours service will further increase presentations to our ED, making the conditions even worse,” said Ms Parkes.

“We recently learned the hospital’s dedicated stroke nurses who respond to critically unwell patients will move to a research role. This, alongside reduced staffing in the resuscitation bays and ambulance bays, will put further pressures on an already stretched department.”

NSWNMA members will continue to seek further discussions with HNE LHD and are calling on the NSW government to introduce nurse-to-patient ratios on every shift, including a ratio of 1:3 in ED.

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