Westmead Nurses and Midwives The Latest To Act On Unsafe Staffing

Five beds must be closed in understaffed surgical ward Maternity unit has 35 FTE vacancies. All other wards and units are being assessed this week

Ongoing nurse and midwife shortages at Westmead Hospital mean a number of services have to be reconfigured to ensure safe patient care can be delivered by the available nurses and midwives, the NSW Nurses Association (NSWNA) said today.

From tomorrow, Tuesday 15 November, five beds will be closed in an understaffed 37-bed surgical ward and the maternity unit will not accept any more bookings from women outside the hospital’s designated catchment area, which includes the Parramatta, The Hills and Holroyd local government areas.

Other hard-pressed wards and units at Westmead are also auditing their services this week to ensure nurse-staffing levels are appropriate and at the right skills mix. The overall situation will be assessed at a meeting on Thursday afternoon, 17 November.

This latest staffing action by nurses and midwives follows similar recent action by nurses and midwives at facilities such as Cumberland, Lismore Base, Bathurst, Orange, Cobar and Muswellbrook hospitals.

NSWNA general secretary, Brett Holmes, said one of the largest NSWNA branch meetings at Westmead in many years, with more than 140 in attendance, voted late last week to decisively address the staff shortages across the hospital.

“For example, Westmead’s busy maternity unit is really struggling with an inadequate staffing establishment of only 135 full-time-equivalent (FTE) nurses and midwives, when it should have at least 152 to meet the safer staffing ratios agreed between the NSWNA and State Government. The situation is made worse by the fact that 18 of those 135 positions are currently vacant and the roster is constantly struggling to fill them.

“This is, after all, a large unit that delivered more than 5000 babies in the last 12 months. It has 41 post-natal beds, 15 ante-natal beds and 17 birth-unit beds for a total capacity of 73 mothers, with their babies, at any one time.

“To better cope with the staff shortages, the unit will now only accept new bookings from women who live within the local government areas that make up the hospital’s designated catchment area.

“Another flashpoint is the 37-bed B3C colorectal and upper gastro-intestinal surgical ward. I am advised these patients all have intravenous fluid lines, central lines, drains and time-consuming dressings. Many are a step down from the high dependency unit.

“This busy and complex ward has 11 FTE nurse vacancies, which are filled, often at the last minute, by casual and agency nurses. More than 230 hours in paid overtime and a lot of unpaid overtime was also used in the last month to fill the many holes in the roster. I am told the morning shift can’t always actually fill all vacancies, with the nurse unit manager and clinical nurse educator often having to fill in.

“And this is with a staffing establishment of one nurse to nearly five patients on the morning and evening shifts, when it really should be at one to four and will go to one to four when the new, safer staffing arrangements, agreed between the NSWNA and State Government, are fully implemented. That will require an extra eight FTE nurses in addition to the current 11 vacancies. So they really need to find 19 nurses for this one ward alone.

“It is clear Westmead Hospital has serious nurse and midwife staffing shortages, which must be urgently addressed if we are to maintain current services at a safe level. Unfortunately, many services cannot be safely maintained at the moment,” Mr Holmes said.

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