Action pledged on nurse shortage


A decision by Goulburn Base Hospital nurses to close beds in the interests of patient safety has wrung concessions from management, aimed at addressing nurse shortages.

The hospital’s NSWNA branch agreed not to close any beds for three weeks in order to test management’s proposals.

Sharney Fleming, Jane Cotter and Lorraine Emerton are determined to get results for the Goulburn community.

Goulburn Hospital has been plagued by nurse shortages for many years and local nurses were ready to defy management and reduce bed numbers to more safely align them with nurse numbers.

Hospital and Southern NSW Local Health District management offered eight initiatives in response.

Management’s 8-point offer to Goulburn nurses

  1. Assess staff and bed availability daily and, if necessary, postpone elective surgery.
  2. Investigate the way operating theatre cases are managed.
  3. Undertake a clinical redesign of the emergency department, to start at the end of November, with an outcome to be provided to the NSWNA branch in December 2011.
  4. Bring forward, to 30 November 2011, the implementation of nurse-to-patient ratios (based on mandated nursing hours) in the medical and surgical wards, along with 10-hour night shifts for these two wards. Management will also consider implementation of 10-hour night shifts for the rest of the hospital.
  5. Provide dedicated clinical nurse educator support for the emergency department.
  6. 6. Two intensive care unit beds to be closed for one month until a nurse is recruited, and they are not to be reopened in a surge situation without staffing being provided.
  7. Discussions to occur between the Director of Nursing and Midwifery and the After Hours Nurse Managers, regarding management of the intensive care unit workload, and cancelling of operating theatre cases if no beds are available.
  8. Separate Nurse Unit Managers for the emergency department and intensive care unit.

The government agreed to the ratios earlier this year following statewide industrial action, which began late last year. The ratios were not due to be implemented in Goulburn until March 2012.

Management also offered to close two intensive care unit beds for one month until a nurse is recruited.

NSWNA general secretary, Brett Holmes, said the nurses and midwives at Goulburn had achieved a significant breakthrough.

‘The Goulburn community is entitled to safe patient care and the determination of the nurses and midwives has finally got some sensible action on the heavy workloads at the hospital, which were putting safe patient care at risk,’ Brett said.

NSWNA Branch Secretary Lorraine Emerton said bed closures would be ‘back on the table’ if management’s proposals did not work.

“There will be no third chance.”

“We love our hospital, it’s a fundamental part of our community, but things got to the stage where we could no longer carry on. It’s been bubbling away like a volcano and now its finally erupted.”

“We don’t want to affect local people and local doctors but we have to do something. It’s very hard to see your workmates so tired that they’re distressed and in tears – that’s not patient safety as far as we are concerned.

“And driving home after a 17-hour shift – how safe is that?

“What happens if someone dies as a result of the understaffing? We would all have to live with that, and that’s not fair.”

What do you think of the 8 point offer? Is management on the right track?

Image credit: NSWNA

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  1. The problem with most country hospitals is that you just can’t GET nurses. There just isn’t the workforce available like there is in major metropolitan locations. You don’t HAVE a casual pool to call on. Nursing education is done at university, which in most cases is in metro locations (with a few exceptions). Country hospitals tend to have incumbent staff who have been there 30-odd years, and any other work tends to be offered on a contract basis – who in their right mind is going to move their family “out bush” (even to a Base) for a 6 month contract?
    Implementing ratios will do no good if there are no nurses who want to fill the jobs.


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