| As the state’s health system is put under immense pressure from the growing Omicron outbreak, nurses and midwives at Tamworth Base Hospital are frustrated their calls for safe staffing levels in their emergency department (ED) continue to go unanswered.
In late December an open letter from staff was sent to the Hunter New England Local Health District (HNELHD) Area executive, highlighting the fact that Tamworth Hospital currently has 19 full-time equivalent (FTE) nurse vacancies within the ED and there is not enough nursing staff to fill the base nursing roster.
Within 24 hours of the open letter being circulated, over 200 staff at the hospital signed on, desperate to resolve the staffing crisis. To date there has been no response from HNELHD.
Tamworth Base Hospital NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association (NSWNMA) Branch Secretary, Jill Telfer, said staff are at a loss as to how they can be expected to continue working in such difficult conditions.
“The ED is relying on nurses regularly doing overtime or part-time staff working extra shifts – it is not sustainable,” Ms Telfer said.
“Nurses receive multiple texts each day, asking if anyone can work extra shifts because there just aren’t enough staff on the roster.
“Treatment is being delayed – this week some patients were waiting for over 11 hours to see a doctor. On average, there is about a 6 to 8 hour wait time for non-urgent patients.
“We’re in this situation because the NSW government is refusing to listen to nurses and midwives’ concerns about long term understaffing.
“The NSW government can resolve this staffing crisis by implementing shift-by-shift nurse-to-patient ratios across the public health system to ensure nurses and midwives can deliver safe patient care.”
Matt Cartan, Tamworth Base Hospital NSWNMA Branch President, has urged the Tamworth community to be understanding and not take out their frustrations on hospital staff.
“Our members are concerned for the safety of each other and for the people of Tamworth and we ask anyone who presents to our ED to be understanding of the wait times,” Mr Cartan said
“Nurses are doing all they can to provide care to patients but working short-staffed feels like you’ve got one hand tied behind your back.
“Many shifts just have to make do working short. It’s not safe for staff and it’s not safe for patients.
“Just next week, we already know there’s currently 31 unfilled shifts. And that’s before any sick leave is taken. Our community deserves better.”
The NSWNMA’s campaign for nurse-to-patient ratios on every shift help to address this issue. Mandated ratios would ensure staffing was adequately linked to the number of patients in a ward or unit, rather than just to the number of beds typically open. Safe workloads will help improve staff retention and recruitment.