Staffing breakthrough at Bankstown 

ED nurses win commitment to fill vacancies and continue to push for staffing review.

Bankstown-Lidcombe Hospital emergency department nurses are getting results in their campaign for adequate staffing.

Management have agreed to fill all 9.46 FTE (full-time equivalent) vacancies and employ an additional nurse educator. Interviews with applicants were held in October.

A joint union–management working party is negotiating other issues put forward by the hospital’s NSWNMA branch.

Among other claims, the branch wants a review of ED staffing based on increased presentations and acuity and a cap on treatment spaces unless more nurses are provided.

A branch resolution said ED nurses had been “understaffed and overworked for a substantial period. We believe the vacancies and lack of resources is putting patients and staff at risk.”

Branch steward Natalie Dalton said the ED found it hard to 
hold onto staff due to extreme workload pressures.

“Often the hospital is bed-blocked, ED is full and the waiting room nurse is looking after 20 or more patients,” she said.

“We have had several people leave the department or go casual because they are sick of being overworked. New grads who rotate through the department have said they won’t return until the staffing issues are fixed.

“Our nurses are spread way too thin and it’s dangerous. The branch feels management must take urgent action because we can’t continue like this.”

In 2018, the NSWNMA took Bankstown ED staffing concerns 
to the hospital’s Reasonable Workloads Committee, but discussions achieved little.

In July 2019, members asked the NSWNMA for further help and the union ran a campaign planning session for members.

In September, a branch meeting endorsed the campaign and organised a well-attended rally outside the hospital 

Branch seeks staffing review

In addition to recruitment currently underway to fill vacancies, the branch wants a staffing review because the number and acuity of patients has increased, particularly in categories one and two.

“Our staffing profile says we are staffed for 19 treatment spaces but at times we are actually running 41 treatment spaces,” Natalie said.

The branch is seeking the employment of additional nurses for the waiting room, where a single nurse is sometimes required to care for over 20 patients on morning shift.

The branch wants extra staff for the Rapid Intervention Treatment Zone, which has six chairs and two exam beds staffed by only one nurse in the morning and two in the afternoon and night.

In paediatrics, the ratio often is one nurse to five patients. “When you have children who are very unwell and needing Ventolin for asthma every 20 minutes plus obs every 20 minutes, it can become dangerous in there,” Natalie said.

The branch is also asking for a wardperson or equipment nurse, a pathology assistant, a radiology nurse after hours and more security staff.

According to management, security staff are supposed to walk through the department every hour but this is not happening, branch members say.

Incorrect record keeping is another issue raised by the branch.

It says incorrect data has been entered into the FirstNet application, which tracks patients’ progress through the department.

At times, patients have been recorded as being treated even before they are seen by a doctor or nurse – and having left the department even when they are still under the care of the ED.

Rally demands urgent action

Nurses have held a public rally outside Bankstown-Lidcombe Hospital to call for urgent improvements to ED staffing.

“Quite often you’ll have nine sub-acute to acute patients by yourself, which is not safe,” said NSWNMA branch member and ED nurse Chloe Nicol.

“You might have a patient who is having a stroke, a patient having a heart attack and a patient with internal bleeding, and another patient with sepsis.

“How is one nurse supposed to take care of all of that at the same time? It’s not safe.”

Speakers at the rally included the mayor of Canterbury-Bankstown, Khal Asfour, and NSWNMA General Secretary, Brett Holmes.

Mr Asfour called for better staffing and said nurses “should have every resource available to you to be able to do your job”.

Brett Holmes said the ED had been understaffed and overworked for some time, despite ongoing attempts to raise the issues with South Western Sydney Local Health District.

He said there had been an 11.5 per cent increase in ED presentations in  the April-June quarter alone.

“ED nurses are constantly working short staffed, poor skills mix is contributing to a high turnover of staff and unexpected leave is not 
being replaced.

“That results in excessive workloads for the remaining staff who are trying to treat the increased presentations.”