New regional hospitals struggling to cope

NSWNMA members stood with hands tied outside the NSW Nationals Annual Conference in Tweed Heads this morning to confront constituents about regional health and aged care funding issues that have not yet been addressed by the party.

Acting General Secretary of the NSWNMA, Judith Kiejda, said there were widespread understaffing issues at many new major hospitals across the state, leading to unsustainable overtime, bed block and the implementation of escalation plans.

“Our nurses and midwives’ hands are tied. They’re finding it increasingly difficult to do their jobs safely and efficiently with under-resourcing having a major impact on hospitals from Kempsey, through Dubbo, Tamworth and down to Wagga Wagga,” Ms Kiejda said.

“Patient numbers at the new hospitals tend to increase, as does the footprint of the facility, yet the budget and staff do not. While the nurses are glad to see the new health facilities open, what they really need is an increase in funding to allow for additional recruitment.

“Concerns about impacts to patient safety at these new regional hospitals were raised by our members well before relocations to the new facilities. Yet in the past six months, poor planning has led to unfunded beds being shut down at Wagga Wagga Rural Referral Hospital, breaches of minimum safe staffing at Dubbo Base Hospital, unsustainable overtime at Tamworth Rural Referral Hospital and ongoing staffing issues at Kempsey District Hospital.

“It’s only going to get worse. The Nationals need to take a stand and make their position clear. Will they restore the health funding agenda between the states, territories and Commonwealth?” said Ms Kiejda.

NSWNMA members outside the conference also drew attention to the Government’s recent $1.2 billion cuts to funding for nursing home residents with complex care needs and cuts to Medicare bulk-billing incentives, which Ms Kiejda said would affect regional Australians most.

“Australia’s regional areas have a higher than average proportion of Baby Boomers. It seems only logical that health should be a strong focus for The Nationals, yet there has been no commitment from them or the Liberals towards any funding or forward planning for our growing aged care industry.

“Many of these older Australians also rely on bulk-billing for affordable access to healthcare. The latest Medicare cuts to bulk-billing incentives will mean more financial strain on those who can least afford it. It’s hard enough to get to the doctor in regional areas, so increasing costs will just result in poorer rates of early intervention and more admissions to hospital emergency departments.”

The NSWNMA has called on all MPs and candidates this election to sign a pledge to commit to four key funding and policy announcements in health and aged care, which include the restoration of the health funding agenda, support for our Medicare system, the protection of penalty rates and a commitment to registered nurses 24/7 in aged care.

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