Nurses fear they will continue to bear the brunt of violence and aggression at work until the NSW government addresses severe staffing shortfalls inside Shoalhaven Hospital.
Earlier this month, a senior nurse was allegedly stabbed by a female patient who had spent the night in a crowded emergency department awaiting transfer for further care.
NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association (NSWNMA) Acting General Secretary, Shaye Candish, said the incident had left many staff feeling vulnerable and on tenterhooks due to the working conditions and lack of support.
“Increased demand on the hospital is contributing to extended wait times in the emergency department, which can lead to increased violence and aggression towards staff by patients or their relatives,” said Ms Candish.
“We’ve had reports of patients having to wait up to 48 hours to be admitted to a bed on an inpatient ward at Shoalhaven. There are staffing issues throughout the entire hospital, with violence being experienced in multiple wards.
“We have serious concerns about the number of vacant nursing positions left unfilled, as well as the Local Health District’s efforts to try and retain staff. It’s resulting in increased workloads on an already fatigued nursing workforce.
“We are aware treatment spaces in parts of the emergency department are not funded around the clock, meaning not enough nursing staff are available to care for the volume of patients. It’s a constant worry. This is why it’s crucial shift by shift ratios in all emergency departments are supported by the NSW government and Opposition.”
NSWNMA Shoalhaven Hospital Branch Secretary, Michael Clarke, said the emergency department had become a ‘pressure cooker’ environment and staff were constantly at risk.
“Ongoing roster shortages mean staff are receiving text messages regularly to try and fill vacant shifts to the point where the department is relying heavily on nurses staying back for overtime,” said Mr Clarke.
“The reliance on overtime is exacerbating staff fatigue and burnout, which has unfortunately led to nurses resigning because their increased workloads mean they can’t give the level of care patients need.
“There’s been a lot more nurses on temporary contracts, rather than permanent nursing staff, and there’s little availability to draw from our casual pool of nurses because they’re constantly the ones who are plugging gaps in the rosters.”
After raising concerns for more than 12 months, the NSWNMA Shoalhaven Hospital Branch was assured security for the emergency department would increase on weekends to help curb violence and aggression but was yet to occur.
The NSWNMA acknowledged violence prevention and management training had occurred for most nursing staff however, annual refresher training had not continued.
The NSWNMA said it was imperative the NSW government addressed the short-staffing concerns and ongoing security issues for the safety of patients and nurses inside the emergency department at Shoalhaven Hospital.