Emergency department walk outs show need for ratios

The NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association (NSWNMA) has urged the NSW government to overhaul the current nursing and midwifery staffing system, as new figures show tens of thousands of frustrated patients have left emergency departments without receiving or completing treatment.

New Bureau of Health Information (BHI) data shows 76,117 patients walked out of public hospital emergency departments during April to June this year, the highest of any quarter since 2010. Almost one in five of the patients who left had re-presented for care within three days.

Waiting times inside emergency departments were also the poorest on record, with barely half of the ‘triage category 2’ patients, and only 62.8% of all patients, starting treatment on time.

NSWNMA General Secretary, Shaye Candish, said the report card was an alarming reminder of the demand on public hospitals and reflected the extreme pressure experienced by nursing staff.

“Our public health system has been under enormous pressure for an extended period, held together by nurses, midwives and other health staff stretching themselves beyond what is reasonable,” said Ms Candish.

“The sheer volume of patients leaving our emergency departments before starting their care is shameful. Returning within a few days to try and access care, as they’ve likely deteriorated, doesn’t depict a ‘world class’ health system, or one that’s meeting the needs of NSW patients.

“We can see bed block issues and ramping outside emergency departments are also compounding the delays in ambulance response times to some of the highest priority cases.”

BHI figures indicated elective surgery waiting times for non-urgent and semi-urgent surgeries during the quarter were also the longest on record, with a median wait time of 339 days for non-urgent procedures, while one in 10 patients waited longer than 161 days for semi-urgent surgery.

“The current staffing system in our public hospitals is no longer fit for purpose. It isn’t transparent and it’s open to manipulation. We need clear nurse-to-patient ratios on every shift to deliver safe care to all patients when they need it,” Ms Candish said.

“Many members have told us unsafe workloads are prompting staff to reduce their hours. We know that manageable and safe workloads will attract nurses and midwives back into our health system.

“The ratios our members are seeking are flexible to help manage patients’ care needs and the clinical experience of nursing staff across a hospital.”

The NSWNMA said members would continue to advocate for patient safety in NSW public hospitals and reiterated calls for the NSW government to guarantee safe staffing with ratios.

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