Nursing dispute at John Hunter Hospital

A dispute over nurse staffing levels in John Hunter Hospital operating theatres is set to escalate despite a commitment in the Industrial Relations Commission on Friday that five more specialist nurses would be employed, reports the Newcastle Herald.

The NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association believes another 25 nurses are needed to meet accredited rostering standards – so it plans to now file the matter before the Chief Industrial Magistrates Court.

The dispute follows the release of a report, commissioned by the nurses’ union and released in March, which found John Hunter operating theatres were understaffed by 37 full-time nurses.

An expert calculated how many specialist nurses should be employed based on the Australian College of Operating Room Nurses standards.

Negotiations over the past month between Hunter New England Health management and the union – who have since scaled back the number of nurses considered necessary to 30 – failed to reach an agreement.

Union lead organiser Matt Byrne yesterday said the dispute could end up having statewide significance as Hunter New England Health is arguing its rostering levels are dictated by the NSW Health Ministry.

“There is the potential for a precedent across the state,” he said.

“They [Hunter New England] said it was the Ministry of Health dictating how to apply the nursing standards, it’s a matter of interpretation.

“They’ve said they’re willing to put 4.66 full-time equivalent staff to fill the gap.”

But Mr Byrne said that number of staff would only cover a holiday discrepancy – nurses had been getting seven weeks’ holidays when their award stated they should get eight weeks.

He said the Commissioner had ordered John Hunter Hospital’s division of surgery to update the union daily on the staffing numbers.

From The Newcastle Herald 2 May 2014.

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