Tram plan derailed by community campaign

Cumberland Hospital’s NSWNMA branch wants to know how a large acute psychiatric hospital will operate with a busy tram line running through it. 

 Alarmed for their patients’ safety, nurses at Western Sydney’s biggest acute psychiatric hospital are trying to stop a tram line being built through the hospital grounds.

The state government plans to run the Parramatta Light Rail corridor through the middle of Cumberland Hospital, which has about 200 patients, many with depression and schizophrenia.

 Members of Cumberland Hospital’s NSWNMA branch voted to take workplace action and held a public rally to oppose the plan.

 Branch members have tried unsuccessfully to get details about the project’s potential impact on the hospital ever since it got the go-ahead in 2018.

After site works started in September 2019 without any risk assessment or consultation with hospital staff, branch members voted to take action.

This included refusing to operate the patient flow portal – a task assigned to nurses after hours – and refusing to accept single-nurse escorts to take patients to medical appointments.

About 70 people attended a community protest rally addressed by union and community speakers including NSWNMA General Secretary, Brett Holmes.

“There’s got to be a better way than driving (the tram) right through the middle of this hospital,” Brett said.

“I understand your level of concern about how the hell do you make sure that nobody’s going to jump in front of those trams.”

Support from resident group and other unions

Representatives of the Rail, Tram and Bus Union and North Parramatta Residents’ Action Group attended the rally in support of nurses.

Action group spokesperson, Suzette Meade said the light rail was “just an excuse to uplift and re-zone the (hospital) land for sale”.

“It’s a no-win situation for anyone bar developers,” she said.

NSWNMA branch secretary Luke Muller said nurses were concerned for the safety of “a very vulnerable population of patients”.

Luke said there was a real danger of patients walking in front of trams.

“It’s going to be a double tram line and it’s going to be running every seven minutes between 7am and 7pm,” he said.

“The line will run in both directions and trams won’t come at the same time. So theoretically there could be a tram every three and a half minutes.

“It will cut the hospital in half and there is talk of a tram station being built in the middle of the campus.

“If we need to get an ambulance or fire truck from one side of the road to the other, or get staff to come to an emergency, response times will be delayed.

“Any medical emergencies, any aggressive emergencies, we’ve now got to wait for a light rail to pass through before we can access the other side of the campus.”

Members launch online petition

Branch members have started an online petition via change.org to get the tram re-routed and are lobbying politicians.

After the branch voted to take industrial action, Western Sydney Local Health District took the issue to the NSW Industrial Relations Commission.

The commission recommended industrial action be abandoned and the LHD and union enter into talks.

The NSWNMA has since met with LHD representatives and Transport for NSW reportedly has agreed to halt its planned works until issues raised by the NSWNMA are addressed and further staff consultations and risk assessments occur.

However, site preparation work by Health Infrastructure has gone ahead, with a mental health unit and four cottages being demolished.

Luke said members wanted to know how the hospital would operate with a tram running through it.

“There are several government departments involved and when we try to get answers we keep getting pushed from one service to another,” he said.

“I’ve been at the hospital for 17 years and there has always been talk of moving the hospital somewhere else, because it is a prime development site.

“Several years ago, a company made a play to redevelop half the hospital as a residential complex.

“Now, apparently, Sydney University want to use the site as a uni precinct with emphasis on health. They have until November next year to develop a business plan.”

No consultation, plenty of safety concerns

Cumberland Hospital’s NSWNMA branch has tried to get details about the potential impact of the Parramatta light rail project ever since it got the go-ahead in 2018.

NSWNMA Assistant General Secretary, Judith Kiejda, said branch representatives were ignored when they tried repeatedly to raise legitimate concerns about the project.

“At first, we were reassured the state government had thoroughly investigated the proposal and plans were being developed to relocate services into new mental health facilities within the expanding Westmead Hospital precinct nearby,” Judith said.

“However, this proposal was scrapped and our members were advised the current Cumberland Hospital site would instead be redeveloped.

“Several months ago, nursing staff finally received an overview of the state government’s plans to locate a light rail corridor through the middle of the campus, impacting several acute mental health units, as well 
as daily operations, safety and security measures across the facility.

“Not to mention the implications for nursing staff responding to an emergency if they’re located on the opposite side of the light rail corridor when a tram is approaching.”

Judith said members had been raising concerns about safety standards, serious short staffing and isolation issues at the hospital since the beginning of 2019.

“These issues have all been compounded by the lack of proper consultation processes relating to this significant workplace change, including the closure of some mental health units due to the redevelopment and the deletion of several nursing positions.”

Sign the petition

Help stop the Parramatta Light Rail going through Cumberland Hospital: http://chng.it/NRrvHzpb