Don’t stay silent over unsafe staffing
Violating a professional standard could expose nurse and midwives to sanctions.
NSWNMA General Secretary Brett Holmes has urged nurses and midwives faced with unsafe staffing not to put their patients and careers at risk by staying silent.
Speaking at the union’s annual conference, Brett said every registered nurse, enrolled nurse and midwife was obliged to meet standards and codes set out in the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia’s professional practice framework.
“Codes and standards require that nurses and midwives take action if they believe staffing levels and/or skill mix is inadequate for them to be able to provide safe and professional care,” he said.
“If you are registered as a nurse or midwife, you have a professional obligation to report your concerns if your ability to provide safe care is compromised by poor staffing levels or poor skill mix.”
He said violating a professional standard could expose nurse and midwives to sanctions.
“If there is an adverse event and inadequate staffing is identified as a contributing factor, and that a nurse or midwife was aware of this, you may be held accountable.
“Don’t risk your career or the safety of your patients by bowing to management pressure to perform your duties without question … if you believe staffing levels and/or skill mix is inadequate.”
He said codes of conduct for nurses and midwives state that nurses must document and report concerns if they believe the practice environment is compromising the health and safety of people receiving care.
“I encourage every single member, in whatever role you work in, to read and be familiar with these documents and use them to guide your practice.
“I understand that you are all doing your best in busy and stressful workplaces. I understand that sometimes you are just trying to get through a shift and are often staying back to complete handover and your notes.
“I understand that finding time to report the issue to the after-hours manager or complete an incident report or send an email will often be an extra task that can feel like an additional burden on an already heavy workload.
“Being an autonomous professional involves taking responsibility for identifying problems and risks and taking appropriate action to ameliorate those risks.”
Pick up the phone and ask the union
Brett said if management refused to cooperate then the best and safest way to solve problems was to join the union and take action as a collective through a local branch of the union.
“If you don’t have a local branch, pick up the phone and ask the union for assistance,” he urged.
Brett said it would take “strong and persistent campaigning” to force the current state government, private companies and aged care providers to deliver evidence-based staffing and skill mix.
The state government had delivered several budget surpluses yet continued to ignore safe staffing.
“Not only has it not delivered the critical second phase of ratios, which extends them fully to rural and regional hospitals or into specialty areas such as emergency departments, critical care units and paediatrics, but some areas are not even meeting their existing commitments.”
He said understaffing in public hospitals had cut nursing hours below the numbers legally required under the public health system award.
Data collected by the union showed at least 40,000 hours of nurse time had been withheld from patients in the last year in just 13 public hospitals amongst those checked so far.
“We have not yet quantified the thousands of midwifery hours not delivered to mothers and babies, nor are we able to quantify the hours not delivered in wards and units outside the nursing hours wards.
“As a result of the rules being broken and stacked against us we have very few choices. We must lobby government and all parties to change the rules.”
Download Brett Holmes’ presentation: http://www.nswnma.asn.au/publications/reports
Letters to the Editor
Share your thoughts on this article or anything else important to you as nurses and midwives by sending a Letter to the Editor.
Four letters are published in the Lamp each month and the letter chosen as Letter of the Month will win a gift card. Please include a high-resolution photo along with your name, address, phone and membership number. You can submit your letter by emailing the Lamp:email@example.com