Work bans at Parklea prison

One of the toughest jobs in nursing just got a whole lot tougher, thanks to the introduction of some hard to understand “efficiencies”.

According to Parklea Correctional Centre, NSWNMA branch spokesman, Steve Sullivan, the main result of new “efficiencies” introduced by the Justice Health and Forensic Mental Health Network, has been a decline in the health and wellbeing of nursing staff.

Unhappy with the changes that they see impacting negatively on their ability to provide the best possible patient care, nurses at Parklea are responding in the only way they can, by ending flexible work practices.

There has been particular outrage at a decision to overturn a longstanding condition for Justice Health nurses to have paid meal breaks. The prison canteen is open only a few hours a day on weekdays. Outside those hours the only available food is from vending machines.

“We’re in a jail for Christ’s sake,” Steve said. “We have to pass through seven locked gates to get out of the place.

“To get to a canteen outside the main gate can take 15 to 20 minutes sometimes and same to get back in. Most times, if there’s not a big line of people, it will take five to six minutes each way and that’s the best you could do because you have to go through all the security process each time you come into the jail, such as the x-ray scanner, take off all your belts, your shoes. That’s protocol and we put up with that.”

In a longstanding goodwill gesture, nurses on the 7am to 3pm shift have not taken the regulated 20-minute morning tea break, preferring to work through and have a half hour paid lunch break on site, meaning they are still available for emergencies and handovers.

“That’s been a local agreement and we’ve been happy to do that to provide the service we have to provide,” Steve said. “That will no longer happen, we will insist on our right to our 20-minute morning break.

“We’re also going to insist we leave the site for a half hour for lunch. Most nurses will be leaving the centre for their unpaid meal break and if it takes longer than five minutes to get back into the centre, so be it.”

Steve, a drug and alcohol clinical nurse specialist, joined the prison service to treat disadvantaged drug users. Seventy five per cent of the New South Wales prison population has a drug or alcohol problem and he says there is a waiting list for methadone treatment.

“If you are HIV positive you’ll get on fairly quickly. If not you’ll wait 8-10 months. All those I’ve assessed since August last year are still not on the methadone program and they’re telling me ‘I’m using drugs in jail, I’m sharing needles in jail.’

“And I can do nothing,” Steve lamented.

Under new management “efficiencies”, nurses will follow management’s stated zero tolerance policy toward abuse, which could mean filling in between 30 and 40 forms a day.

Under regulations covering mass flu vaccinations, nurses must individually deliver and then document each patient’s flu shot, meaning it could take three or four days to vaccinate 100 people, in a community of 900, when previously a team could vaccinate as many as 100 in a 90-minute clinic.

“We feel we are not respected by upper management at all. We have 100% support from local management, but they’re treated as mushrooms as much as we are,” Steve said.

Nurses only have access to patients in clinics from 9am to 11am and from 12.30 till 3pm. Traditionally nurses have worked through morning tea to fit in all the services required.

“That won’t happen now. It’s all going to have to be done in the time we have access to patients. Patient care will be the same, but there’ll be less of it. “Over the past few years I’m getting less and less job satisfaction and most of our nurses are saying the same thing,” Steve said.