Private hospital nurses win ratios

Macquarie University Hospital (MUH) in Sydney’s north, becomes the first private hospital in NSW to agree to shift-by-shift ratios for nurses. 

 The NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association has negotiated minimum nurse-to-patient ratios in Macquarie University Hospital’s latest enterprise agreement (EA). Staffing ratios for wards and units will be 1:5 for morning shifts, 1:6 for afternoons and 1:10 at night.

Registered nurses must make up at least 75 per cent of staff on every shift in the wards.

The EA also mandates ratios for ICU/CCU (1:1 for ventilated and other critically ill patients), Day Oncology (1:4) and Perioperative Services (as per 2017 ACORN staffing standards).

Members have won pay increases totalling 6.3 per cent over 2.5 years from 1 January 2018 to 1 July 2020.

From July 2018, a Year 8 registered nurse at the 182-bed MUH will be paid $1710.55 per week – 1.5 per cent more than the public health system rate of $1685.10.

The MUH’s NSWNMA branch has unanimously endorsed the agreement. Members were due to vote on it when this edition of The Lamp went to press.

MUH branch president Jenny Gilchrist, a nurse practitioner, said winning mandated ratios was a major breakthrough.

“Putting ratios in the EA gives us a minimum standard for safe practice. It ensures that patient safety can’t be compromised by poor staffing,” she said.

“Like most hospitals, we are short of staff at times. But management are pretty good at staffing to acuity, using casuals, existing staff and agency staff when required.

“If the hospital wants to recruit staff they know they have got to offer competitive working conditions – there are two other private hospitals within 10 km of MUH.”

Branch members happy with gains

She said nurses also welcomed increases in pay and allowances which would also help to recruit staff.

“The hospital is at the end of the M2 tollway in northern Sydney and a decent rate of pay is particularly important to attract and retain those nurses who might have to pay tolls of up to $20 a day to get to and from work.”

Jenny was a member of the NSWNMA team that negotiated the EA between February and September.

“We met with management for three hours every week. It was a significant burden for everyone involved but branch members are very happy with what we’ve achieved,” she said.

Other improvements won at MUH include 12 weeks paid parental leave, five days paid family and domestic violence leave and improved qualification and on-call allowances.

Jenny said 10 weeks paid parental leave had been hospital policy in the past, but management had refused to formally include it in the EA until now.

Agreement delivers better PAID PARENTAL LEAVE

In the previous policy, parental leave was paid in two parts – half on commencement of parental leave and the other half on return to work. Under the newly negotiated EA, it is to be modernised and paid as full pay weekly for 12 weeks, or half-pay weekly for 24 weeks. 

“It was significant to get parental leave recognised as our right under the EA,” she said.

“The agreement includes other measures to improve work–life balance for nurses.

“Staff no longer have to be on call for 24 hours to receive the on-call allowance; they can be on call for eight-hour or 12-hour periods.

“Nurses must now get a 10-hour rest break after overtime and work performed on recall.

“Our director of nursing, Deborah O’Neill is very keen to make sure that nurses have a good work–life balance and she strongly supported these measures.”

Jenny said a new clause on prevention of bullying and harassment in the workplace “shows the hospital want their staff to work in an environment conducive to their physical and mental health”.ν

How member leaders at MUH organised to win

  • They arranged regular Branch meetings
  • Ensured good member participation at Branch meetings, particularly from perioperative staff
  • Attended bargaining meetings with management
  • Reviewed and amended draft clauses
  • Reported back to members
  • Directly sought feedback from members and passed this on to the bargaining team.
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