Penny pinching at Blacktown puts patients at risk

A serious shortage of nurses in the Blacktown ED in January has highlighted the urgent need for mandated nurse-to-patient ratios of 1:3 in emergency departments.

Figures leaked to Fairfax Media showed that a dozen patients were left waiting for more than 48 hours one Monday afternoon in January in the Blacktown ED. Half were aged 80 or older. A further five had been waiting for 24 hours while another was left in a resuscitation bed for 14 hours.

Maureen Buckley CNC, Blacktown Hospital NSWNMA branch delegate, says this wasn’t a one-off.

“Our members working in ED say it is not unprecedented. The capacity of the ED is often stretched.

“It’s a very difficult environment at all times and it is extra tough with this added capacity.

“The nurses in our ED always aim to deliver safe patient care but it is hard to deliver quality care when the capacity of the ED is exceeded.”

NSWNMA concerns were confirmed by an anonymous health department source quoted by Fairfax Media.

“It is becoming routine to have a half dozen or more patients sitting in the emergency department waiting for a ward bed for more than 48 hours and, in occasional cases, 72 hours,” the source said. “Every day of every week for the past year, at least a year, it has been routine. This is the norm. There is a chronic shortage of beds.”

A 2012 federal government report found that 10 per cent of patients at Blacktown waited longer than 27 hours for admission. The federal benchmark for patients to leave an emergency department is four hours.

Assistant General Secretary of the NSWNMA Judith Kiejda says it is unacceptable for the New South Wales government to leave patients and staff vulnerable when there is an avoidable shortage of nurses.

“This government has a track record of forcing the hand of Local Health Districts – prompting a high number of nursing staff on leave and bed closures to minimise budget pressures over the summer,” she said.

Judith rejected claims from health minister Jillian Skinner that there was an “unusual spike” in ED presentations at the time.

“We’ve been advised that there was no ‘unusual spike’ in presentations to Blacktown Hospital’s emergency department when compared to previous years, contrary to the NSW Health Minister’s claims,” Judith said. “The health minister is abdicating her responsibility of delivering safe patient care and a well-resourced public health system.

“Jillian Skinner promised the people of this state that patient safety would come first – clearly that’s not a commitment she’s kept.

“The health minister must make improved ratios in emergency departments a priority so that our members can deliver the safest possible care to their patients,” Judith said.

Maureen Buckley says shortages at Blacktown vindicate the NSWNMA’s claim for better ratios in our EDs.

“We definitely support the 1:3 ratio in our EDs,” she said.