Safety first, nurses and midwives tell Ramsay

Nurses and midwives continue to press for safe staffing standards at NSW hospitals owned by Ramsay Health Care.

Ramsay, one of the world’s biggest private hospital operators, owns 30 hospitals across NSW.

Its NSW nurses and midwives work under an enterprise agreement (EA) which expired on March 31.

NSWNMA members have asked the union’s bargaining team to make staffing improvements the top priority in current negotiations for a new EA.

“The biggest sticking point in negotiations is ratios or safe staffing,” said Lyn Whitlam, a NSWNMA delegate at Ramsay-owned North Shore Private Hospital in Sydney.

Lyn is one of eight Ramsay nurses and midwives who have joined NSWNMA officers in the NSWNMA bargaining team negotiating the EA with senior management.

“By far the biggest issue for our members is safe staffing to ensure that patients get the right care by the right person at the right time,” she said.

“That is the message we are getting from members across the state, from the smallest hospital to the biggest.”

In a NSWNMA survey of 1397 Ramsay members, 90 per cent of them nominated improved staffing as the top priority.

More than 1000 Ramsay members said staffing numbers in their ward/unit/theatre were inadequate to deliver the quality care their patients need.

Ramsay nurses’ EA claim seeks a safe staffing framework with a skill mix of a minimum 85 per cent RNs for each shift.

The claim seeks ‘like-for-like’ replacement for all absences including sick leave and with the designated in-charge nurse of a ward, unit or hospital to be supernumerary without a patient load.

Speedy turnover of patients to increase revenue

The NSWNMA state-wide Committee of Delegates unanimously called on Ramsay management to agree to the safe staffing claims last month.

“In particular we need our NUMs, and in charge of ward, unit or hospital without a patient load,” the resolution said.

Lyn said staff have told the union bargaining team that management routinely replaces absent nurses with lesser qualified staff.

“When a registered nurse goes off work for whatever reason they may be replaced with a less qualified staff member such as an assistant in nursing, which means the RN has to take on a bigger workload.

“In addition, patient acuity is greater and management expects us to move patients through the hospital faster in order to increase turnover and revenue.

“However, private patients expect to get the same sort of care as public patients who benefit from a ratio system already in place.”

Lyn said the union had kept members informed through phone hook-ups with branch delegates and other active members, hospital branch meetings, regular updates on social media and emails.

The NSWNMA Ramsay Facebook page has more than 1300 members.

“Members have had plenty of opportunities to keep abreast of developments in the campaign and put forward concerns and suggestions,” Lyn said.

NSWNMA General Secretary Brett Holmes said Ramsay members had made it clear the nurse in charge of a ward, unit or hospital should not also have a patient load.

He said the in-charge nurse was required to manage the ward, with responsibilities such as attending daily meetings, dealing with doctors and relatives, arranging staff replacements and serving as a back-up in exceptionally busy periods and emergencies.

However, members had reported cases of the in-charge nurse being assigned a patient load of 10 or more patients at night and up to seven in the afternoon.

“It is farcical to expect them to carry out those tasks and also safely care for up to 10 patients,” he said.

Brett said the NSWNMA bargaining team had presented Ramsay with numerous examples of the need for safe staffing at its hospitals.

However, as this edition of The Lamp goes to press, the company had repeatedly rejected members’ safe staffing claims.

Ramsay had also failed to respond in writing to other important conditions claims.

Ramsay owns 235 hospitals and other facilities in Australia, France, the United Kingdom, Italy, Indonesia and Malaysia.

It made a net profit after tax of $288 million for the six months ended December 31, 2017, with the Australian division performing strongly.

Brett said members are frustrated with Ramsay’s approach and will be left with no choice but to escalate to member actions if negotiations fail to make progress. 

Ramsay staff win back ADOs

Nurses and midwives at North Shore Private and St George Private hospitals have successfully fought to reclaim allocated days off (ADOs) for all full timers.

Since mid-2017, Ramsay have employed many full time nurses and midwives – including new graduates – without ADOs, in contrast to existing full timers who have ADOs in their contracts.

Ramsay has now agreed to a process under which full timers without ADOs can apply for them through their NUM.

Contracts will then be reissued and members should get legal advice from the NSWNMA before signing.

Global health giant digs in over $32 allowance

Ramsay Health Care says its staff are its most important asset and the “key to the organisation’s ongoing success.”

Midwives at Ramsay-owned Westmead Private Hospital could be forgiven for thinking otherwise.

They have been battling to get the hospital to pay midwives a qualification allowance of $32.28 per week, in accordance with the entitlements in their enterprise agreement.

Hospital management maintain the allowance should only be paid to staff who work in the delivery suite and not those working in the post-natal unit.

“Management claim that staff in post-natal are not eligible because they are not using all their qualifications,” said NSWNMA General Secretary Brett Holmes.

“This is contrary to the industry norm and the standard practice in other private and public hospitals.

“Midwives are employed on the basis of their qualifications regardless of where they are assigned and the allowance should be paid from the start of their employment.

“It’s pretty disgusting to see a highly profitable company ripping off staff for $32 a week.”