Poor ED staffing continues to impact patient care

Ongoing pressure inside public hospital emergency departments (EDs) has prompted renewed calls by the NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association (NSWNMA) for staffing ratios to be mandated on every shift.

The NSWNMA wants the NSW government to introduce a ratio of one nurse to every three ED treatment spaces to improve patient care, backed by Bureau of Health Information (BHI) figures that show patients’ rating of overall care in December 2020 to June 2021 fell below 2019-20 levels.

According to the BHI, overall ED patient experiences were significantly lower than the state average at Blacktown Hospital, Inverell Hospital and Nepean Hospital.

NSWNMA General Secretary, Brett Holmes, said the data showed ED staff were unable to check on as many patients while they waited for treatment in John Hunter, Wollongong, Belmont, Westmead, Nepean, Shellharbour and Wyong hospitals, which all performed worse than the NSW median.

“We’ve indicated to the government numerous times how tough conditions have become inside many emergency departments due to chronic understaffing issues,” said Mr Holmes.

“Short staffing was impacting on patient care and safety well before the pandemic and these results show how it was exacerbated during COVID-19 peaks.”

The BHI data indicated one in five ED patients (19%) statewide said they received contradictory information about their condition or treatment.

At Inverell Hospital in the New England, only 42 per cent of patients thought ED staff worked ‘very good’ together, while 54 per cent said they had enough time to discuss their health issue with staff.

“There’s been no reprieve for our public sector nurses and midwives across the state, and we’re continuing to see them reduce their hours or leave nursing and midwifery entirely,” said Mr Holmes.

“The volume of overtime they’re being asked to do, growing skills mix issues and recruitment delays are continuing to take a toll. We need nurse-to-patient ratios of 1:3 on every shift in our emergency departments and the NSW government needs stop relying on its decade-old staffing model that no longer reflects the volume of work necessary to meet demand.

“It’s not good enough. NSW patients deserve better health care and staff deserve safe working conditions.”

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