Town backs nurses’ ratios campaign

Aged care nursing at Manilla MPS sacrificed to plug gaps in emergency and acute staffing.

The small northern NSW town of Manilla has come out strongly in support of nurses who are battling to get more staff for the local health service.

About 250 of the town’s 2,500 residents attended a rally in support of nurses at Manilla’s 53-bed multipurpose service (MPS).

The Manilla facility is the biggest MPS in NSW with 40 aged care (high care) beds, 13 acute beds, 
three emergency beds and an overnight room.

Nurses say the facility is seriously understaffed and the community is not getting the care it needs.

Manilla’s NSWNMA branch has called for the employment of six more nurses to give afternoon and night shifts two additional AiNs and one more RN.

However, after long negotiations, management of Hunter New England Local Health District has only conceded the employment of an additional part-time clinical nurse specialist.

The branch rejected a further offer to settle the dispute with the employment of an additional endorsed enrolled nurse on evening shift because it would not have improved overall staff numbers.

Safety concerns for patients and staff

Manilla has a large number of elderly patients at high risk of falls. However, aged care units are left dangerously understaffed when nurses rostered to aged care beds are required to work in the ED and acute ward during busy periods.

Staffing often falls short of award requirements, which are themselves inadequate, nurses say.

Nurses are also concerned that understaffing sometimes forces them to work alone in old buildings not designed to meet modern security needs.

Manilla aged care nurses have told the NSWNMA there are not enough staff to cover meal breaks, absentees and rostered leave. In one 20-bed aged care unit, there is no RN or CNS to help with medication checks and no specialist aged care RN.

In the second aged care unit, there is sometimes no RN on the morning roster, no RN on the afternoon shift to oversee medications and no AiN to help bed down residents. Some leave vacancies are unfilled.

In the acute ward, a RN taken off the ward to assist triage is sometimes replaced with an AiN and most shifts are working with only two staff members.

Manilla branch secretary, Crystal Costello, said staff were “pretty stressed out and at breaking point.”

“We can’t do what we are trained for – we can’t adequately care for people if we don’t have the staff on the ground,” she said.

 “Things are getting missed through no fault of the staff. It’s a big thing if you’re not getting 
your breakfast until 10 or 11 am due to understaffing.

“We had a palliative patient who hadn’t has personal care properly attended to for a full week because there were not enough people on the floor. That’s not good enough.

“People are not getting continence aids changed and medications are late.”

The NSWNMA branch has condemned management attempts to “bully and intimidate” nurses who have raised issues relating to patient and resident safety.

A branch resolution said the branch was “deeply concerned that our members are targeted for making our service safe … If this continues, we will demand the NSWNMA take all measures, including legal avenues, to stop this behaviour.”

Weak response from local MP

Two candidates for the seat of Tamworth at the forthcoming state election, Labor’s Stephen Meares, and Jeff Bacon of the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party, spoke in support of the nurses’ demands at the Manilla rally.

Sitting National Party member, Kevin Anderson, declined an invitation to attend.

In 2017, Anderson and his National Party colleagues voted down a bill to mandate one registered nurse in nursing homes at all times.

Manilla branch president, Tanya Rogers, said Anderson did agree to meet with a delegation of branch members.

“Mr Anderson did listen to our concerns but we asked him if he would support our ratio rally and he declined in signing a pledge because currently he doesn’t feel ratios are the answer. he thinks management is where the issues are,” she told the Northern Daily Leader.

“Mr Anderson is the only person in Tamworth as the MP that can help take it to the Minister of Health to get more funding in the budget to be passed down to us.

She told the paper staff had no time to properly attend to tasks such as putting makeup on patients, having difficult conversations with grieving families and taking the time to give patients a quality shower.

“We feel disappointed when we walk out the doors and we feel we haven’t given the care we should,” Tanya said.

“At the moment the patients don’t feel they matter.” 

Health is Tamworth’s top poll issue

Manilla is not the only multi-purpose service in the Hunter New England LHD facing serious staffing pressures.

Nurses from several facilities in the LHD’s Peel District – Barraba, Bingara, Gunnedah, Manilla, Qurindi, Tamworth Rural Referral hospital and Werris Creek – staged a combined rally in support of nurse- to-patient ratios last month.

About 100 people attended the rally outside Tamworth council chambers where all candidates for the state seat of Tamworth addressed the crowd.

Health is the number one concern of voters in the Tamworth electorate for the upcoming state election, according to the latest polling by the Northern Daily Leader newspaper.

More than 300 people took part in The Leader’s online survey, which asked voters to choose one of six prominent issues as their biggest priority for the 23 March election.

Health was the clear favourite, attracting more than a quarter 
of the votes.