No compromise on safe community care!


Community nurses are planning to take greater control over staffing to ensure adequate patient care.

Working too much overtime, too busy to take meal breaks, then a staff member goes on annual leave and is not replaced – leaving you to carry the extra load with even less time for your patients.

That scenario is increasingly familiar to community health nurses not covered by the nurse-to-patient ratios won by the NSW Nurses’ Association in 2011. With patient numbers, age and acuity on the increase, understaffed nurses fear that safe patient care in the community setting is being compromised.

A NSWNA team, led by Assistant General Secretary Judith Kiejda, has been meeting with community and community mental health members around the state as part of a campaign called Take Control of Your Day: There’s No Reason to Wait.

“For too long community health has been the silent health service, with members feeling they are the poor cousin of hospitals. The time has come to get community health on the agenda and work together to redress this,” Judith said.

During their regional visits the NSWNA team gave a presentation on Award entitlements, the process of raising staffing concerns locally, and ways of developing plans to achieve safe and competent community care. They also distributed a handbook – Nurses and Midwives: Organising for Safe Patient Care – a guide to take community nurses through the process and empower them to take control of their day.

Judith says all nurses have a professional obligation to provide safe and competent patient care and to ensure that such care is not compromised by any circumstance, including unsafe staff levels.

The NSWNA handbook advises community nurses to initially raise staffing concerns with their Nurse Unit Manager or team leader and to suggest solutions where possible. If problems cannot be solved at the local level they should be referred to the next line manager.

If management still cannot resolve the issues they should be referred to a Reasonable Workload Committee (RWC), where one exists. If the committee cannot find a solution within a reasonable time then the problem becomes a grievance and there are processes within the Award to escalate unresolved staffing issues. If there is no RWC, or management can’t resolve the issue, that’s not the end of the story.

“If nurses are too short-staffed to safely and adequately meet patient care demands, then one solution is to reduce activity to meet staffing levels, such as cancelling non-urgent home visits and clinical appointments,” Judith said. “Taking the decision to reduce services away from management reinforces your commitment to safe patient care and lets them know you take your professional obligations seriously.

“Nurses should involve their local branch and NSWNA head office before commencing any action. The union will work with nurses to plan and organise a local campaign for safe patient care.”

So HOW can you get safe staffing? Read tomorrow’s blog at Nurse Uncut to get some tips!

Get the handbook

Nurses and Midwives: Organising for Safe Patient Care is a handbook that guides community nurses through the process of securing safe and reasonable staff levels.

To obtain a copy, email
Phone (02) 8595 1234 or 1300 367 962 from outside Sydney

Image credit: NSWNA

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