Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Grafton and Maclean hospitals 40 nurses short

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Between Grafton and Maclean Hospitals another 40 nurses are needed to provide adequate staffing levels say the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association as the Local Health District tries to fill 180 nursing vacancies across the region.

NSW Nurses and Midwives Association Clarence Valley branch secretary Thea Koval said without agency nursing staff being called in, who are paid significantly more than NSW Health nurses, Maclean and Grafton hospitals would struggle to operate.

“Without agency nursing staff our hospitals would not be able to be run with the nurses employed only by NSW Health,” she said.

“Without that external agency support we would be completely drowning, there just would not be enough staff.”

Ms Koval said both Grafton and Maclean hospitals are continuing to experience increasing numbers of patients presenting to the emergency department ED, which leads to increasing wait times until they are treated.

This combined with the lack of nursing staff, Ms Koval said is leading to a decline in patient care.

“We are constantly and have been for the last 10 years saying that the amount of staff we have is not enough to provide the care we are expected to our patients,” she said.

“That can range anywhere from not being able to provide a shower, so there’s patients going without showers on the wards, to people waiting excessive amounts of time in ED to be seen by a nurse, or once they’re seen by a nurse waiting for pain relief, waiting to be helped to the toilet or delays in getting antibiotics.”

Ms Koval said the frustrating lack of staff led to nurses striking four times last year.

“We raise the issue through to our managers, we try and raise it with the Ministry of Health and so far, nothing has changed,” she said.

“This new government has promised to introduce the ratio system, which they termed ‘safe staffing’ but that hasn’t happened yet.”

Ms Koval said the planned ratios are one nurse to three patients in ED, with a dedicated resuscitation nurse, a dedicated triage nurse and a dedicated team leader on all shifts.

“That would make a massive difference to Grafton and Maclean Hospitals, particularly on our night shifts when our staffing drops from seven nurses to three nurses, and more often than not these days the ED is full of patients,” she said.

As Queensland Health have implemented nurse to patient ratios, where nurses experience better conditions and earn $10 an hour more than in NSW, Ms Koval said a number of local nurses have left to work over the border.

As a result, the Northern NSW Local Health District has confirmed there are 180 full time equivalent nursing vacancies across the region.

“Grafton and Maclean hospitals have approximately 40 of those vacancies,” Ms Koval said.

“That is just to make it back up to what the government currently considers as reasonable staffing levels…and when this new ‘safe staffing’ comes in as promised, that level of vacancies will increase.”

Ms Koval said staff shortages extend to the number of local doctors, as two surgeons have recently left Grafton hospital without being replaced and locums are regularly called in to fill positions in Grafton and Maclean hospitals.

“It’s a very large expense (for locums) but it’s what you have to do otherwise you don’t have medical coverage,” she said.

Northern NSW Health District NNSWLHD acting chief executive Lynne Weir said the number of permanent frontline Nursing and Midwifery vacancies across Northern NSW Local Health District is currently around 180 FTE (full time equivalent), which is less than one per cent of all nursing and midwifery staff across the district.

“Hospitals will always have some vacancies from time to time due to staff retirements, resignation, promotion, and movements,” she said.

“To ensure we continue to provide excellent care to our patients while recruitment progresses for vacant positions, we fill nursing and midwifery positions using current, casual and agency staff.

“Vacant senior medical officer roles are staffed with locum doctors as an interim measure while recruitment for these roles continues.”

To boost recruitment and improve retention of staff, Ms Weir said the NNSWLHD is using measures including increasing the number of new graduate positions offered, offering all new nursing graduates’ permanent positions, and pursuing overseas recruitment opportunities.

The CV Independent did not receive a response from the NSW Health Minister before deadline to questions about when the 1:3 nurse to patient ratios will be introduced in NSW, when the pay rise for NSW nurses will take effect and how much it will be, plus how many nurses in NSW can’t work after they refused the Covid vaccination. 

Clarence Valley Independent 14 June 2023

This article appeared in the Clarence Valley Independent, 14 June 2023.


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