Tired, and tired of talking  

Exhausted from soaring demand and unsafe staffing, Maitland nurses and midwives have moved to action.

Nurses, midwives and community members gathered outside Maitland Hospital on August 14 to protest staff shortages that have seen surgical patients transferred to the maternity ward and dangerous staffing levels throughout the hospital, including in the acute and emergency departments.

Maitland Branch President Jane Burton said the Association spent months raising their concerns about patient and staff safety with the hospital’s workload committee, but they have now exhausted all 
award provisions to have their grievances addressed.

“It is really unsafe for the patients and it is really unsafe for the nurses. Nurses are putting their registration at risk every day we go to work,” said Jane, who works as a surgical nurse.

Jane said that while the surgical ward is staffed for 36 beds, “we are often open to 40 and 44 beds, without any extra full time equivalent staff.”

Jane said surgical patients are being transferred to the maternity ward without surgical nurses looking after them, putting pressure on the midwives, and on the mothers and new babies.

“And it is leaving surgical patients at risk because they aren’t getting a surgical nurse to look after them.

“A lot of midwives don’t have surgical training, and while some of them are dual qualified, they may not have worked with surgical patients for a long time,” she said.

The hospital’s Acute and Cardiac Observation Unit has four beds, said Jane, but “unfortunately we only have one nurse that is allocated per shift”.

“In that ward you have patients that are acutely unwell, so often you have people having cardiac infusions. Acute and coronary beds should be staffed with one nurse to a maximum of three patients, but if there are patients with infusions you should have more staff rather than less.”

ED presentations up 9.5%. Zero extra staff

Jane said the hospital’s emergency department saw presentations increase by 9.5 per cent in just the first three months of 2019 without any increase in nursing staff.

“That figure doesn’t even take into account the flu season.

“We only have two ambulance offload bays, and our ambulance presentations have gone up by 13.2 per cent,” she said.

Staff are being asked to do overtime, but fatigue is a huge issue throughout the hospital.

“Working when you are fatigued is like working when you are drunk.”

NSWNMA Assistant General Secretary, Judith Kiejda, said there is an obligation on all parties involved in the reasonable workloads process to canvass all of the issues and make every effort to resolve them promptly.

“Unfortunately, this hasn’t been the case at Maitland Hospital. Our members have lost confidence in the process and genuinely fear for patients’ safety.”

The pressure on staff throughout the hospital is “a catalyst for error or, worse, an avoidable incident”, Judith said.

Jane says urgent action is needed to help the hospital cope.

“Maitland is the fastest growing city in NSW outside Sydney.

“In our surgical ward and in our medical ward we need our six nursing hours per patient per day that Brad Hazzard promised us in the lead up to the election.

“They are building us a new hospital, but we can’t wait three years for a new hospital, and we can’t wait three years for the next election before they deliver on those hours. Our problem is right now.”

Jane says the union will continue its community campaign to help educate and inform the community.

“Public hospitals are our communities’ hospitals, and they have a right to know what is happening within those hospitals.”