Unsafe ratios force bed closures in Hornsby mental health unit

Consistent understaffing and poor skill mix issues at the Hornsby Ku-Ring-Gai Hospital Mental Health Intensive Care Unit (MHICU) is putting staff and patient safety at risk, leaving nursing staff no option but to start closing three beds from 3pm today.

Over the last year, the unit has had significant vacancies combined with a poor skill mix due to inexperienced nurses filling those vacancies.

NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association (NSWNMA) Assistant General Secretary, Judith Kiejda said a lack of action from management to fill vacancies with trained permanent staff has created a dangerous working environment.

“Late last year, there were five violent incidents against staff within 24 hours because of inadequate staffing ratios at the time. Too many near misses have occurred since then and it’s just not acceptable to allow it to go on any longer,” Ms Kiejda said.

“Mental health intensive care units are challenging environments to work in at the best of times, with very unwell and sometimes volatile patients requiring acute care. When there are unfilled vacancies and untrained casual staff backfilling some of those positions, it becomes extremely unsafe.

“It is dangerous practice to place any casual staff not trained to work in a mental health ICU or trained in Violence Prevention and Management within a MHICU. Management is using new graduate nurses to fill gaps in rosters and it is unacceptable.”

The NSWNMA Hornsby Ku-Ring-Gai branch has repeatedly written to Northern Sydney Local Health District asking for admissions into the unit to be reduced, yet no action has been taken.

The branch is seeking urgent employment of 5.5 full time equivalent experienced Mental Health Agency nurses within the next 10 working days, as a stop gap until all permanent and temporary positions are recruited. Management have until 3pm today to address staff shortages or nurses will begin closing the beds.

“Once patients are discharged, the branch will begin to close the three beds in order to ensure a safe ratio of nurses to patients,” Ms Kiejda said.

“It’s clear funding from the NSW Government for ratios in our health facilities is long overdue. Thousands of hours of nursing care are being withheld from patients due to understaffing. Better, more transparent nurse-to-patient ratios are urgently needed to help deliver safe care to all patients across the state. It really is a matter of life or death.”

Download this media release: Unsafe ratios force bed closures in Hornsby mental health unit

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