Nurses close Coffs Harbour beds over patient safety

Members of the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association (NSWNMA) Coffs Harbour Hospital branch have taken the unprecedented step of closing beds on a medical ward inside the local hospital due to severe understaffing.

Citing serious patient safety and workload issues on Medical B ward, NSWNMA members escalated short staffing concerns to Mid North Coast Local Health District and last week requested management close up to eight beds, to reflect the qualified nursing staff currently available.

NSWNMA Assistant General Secretary, Michael Whaites, said there were less than half the number of nurses needed to deliver safe patient care on the 32-bed medical ward, which is co-located with a short-stay 10-bed medical assessment unit.

“Our members consider the safety of patients to be top priority and made their concerns known through all available channels. When management failed to act in the interests of patient and staff safety, the nurses escalated to begin closing beds. We need to stop the practice of simply adding more patients regardless of the staffing available, it’s just not safe,” said Mr Whaites.

“Just after midday on Monday the first bed was closed, and nurses will continue to monitor patient flow and staffing shift by shift, until the Local Health District is able to roster the appropriate nurses needed.”

NSWNMA Coffs Harbour Hospital Branch delegate, Sue White, said Medical B ward was down 19 full-time equivalent positions and nurses were regularly doing up to five overtime shifts each per fortnight.

“Fatigue amongst the staff is at an all-time high and we simply do not have the qualified nurses on hand to deliver care, making the ward unsafe for both patients and staff,” said Ms White.

“We’ve got senior nursing staff taking on patients, alongside nurse educators, meaning they are unable to provide the support or mentoring that’s necessary for our less experienced nursing staff.”

The NSWNMA confirmed members would monitor the situation closely on each shift and representatives would meet with Mid North Coast Local Health District again on Tuesday afternoon to discuss satisfactory short and long term options to address the understaffing.

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