Northern Beaches bungle staff transfer
The process of transferring public health staff to the privatised Northern Beaches Hospital has left many nurses angry, confused and uncertain about their future employment.
Northern Beaches Hospital is due to open in November with construction reportedly ahead of schedule.
Yet the staff transition process did not begin until March this year – at least one year later than expected.
Healthscope will run the hospital, and staff transferred from Manly and Mona Vale hospitals will be Healthscope employees.
Northern Sydney Local Health District (NSLHD) will be reduced to a purchaser of Healthscope services.
For years, public health unions have urged the Ministry of Health and Healthscope to give staff more information about work arrangements and employment conditions at the new hospital, and to start the transition process early.
NSLHD belatedly justified the staff transfer delay by saying its contract with Healthscope did not require Healthscope to provide relevant staffing information until six months before transfer.
Most Mona Vale nurses and midwives were matched to Healthscope positions in the first of four recruitment rounds.
However, they had to accept jobs with no detailed job descriptions and without any information about shift arrangements and clinical profiles within their nominated wards or service.
Many eligible employees believe they have been disenfranchised and/or wrongly excluded from more appropriate positions, said NSWNMA General Secretary Brett Holmes.
“This has been compounded by conflicting advice or alternatively a vacuum of information,” he said.
A mismatch of positions
In a letter to Deb Willcox, chief executive of Northern Sydney Local Health District, Brett said eligible employees who work in similar or identical positions had been matched with very different positions.
Shift workers had been matched with day-worker positions and other staff had been matched with positions that did not reflect their current area of expertise.
He said many highly competent intensive care unit nurses felt “abandoned and disrespected” because they had not been matched with ICU positions.
Healthscope is giving priority to ICU nurses with post-graduate certificates because under private hospital regulations, at least half of ICU staff must hold a certificate.
A large number of Manly and Mona Vale nurses have worked successfully in ICU without a certificate for many years.
Brett said these staff had been given a “vague promise” that concerns would be addressed in later job-matching rounds.
Despite its opposition to privatisation, the union and its members had “patiently, diligently and constructively” taken part in all aspects of the consultation process regarding the transition of services and staff.
The NSWNMA had urged the ministry to start the process of transition as early as possible to give people time to consider offers and “rectify errors in approach”, but the ministry had allowed the process to “dawdle” over several years.
Brett urged the NSLHD to give staff more information and more time to make decisions.
The NSLHD responded by allowing an extra week for expressions of interest in round one.
Transition ‘a horrible process’
The Northern Beaches Hospital transition process sounds a warning to staff at other facilities that may face privatisation in the future, says clinical nurse specialist (CNS) Lisa Edbrooke.
“It’s been a horrible process to go through and I think it’s really unfortunate that people on the northern beaches will no longer have an acute care public hospital,” says Lisa, who has worked at Manly Hospital for more than five years.
“I want other nurses and midwives in NSW to know we need to fight against privatisation.
“I’m thrilled for those hospitals that have been saved from privatisation because staff and the community rallied against it and the state government backflipped.”
Lisa, a CNS grade 2, has spent all her 34 years of nursing in the public system. She says she is relatively fortunate to be among the majority of nurses and midwives who were matched to Healthscope positions at the new hospital in the first of four recruitment rounds.
“My position at Manly is nurse screener – pre-admissions and, of course, it comes with a detailed job description that clearly defines my role.
“However, my job description for the pre-admissions clinic at Northern Beaches is generic for a CNS 1 and 2 and doesn’t give me any idea of what I will be doing.
“Also, we still haven’t been told what model of care will apply and what the FTE (full-time equivalent) staffing profile will be.”
A year behind schedule
She has put in an expression of interest for the position, but staff have been told they will not find out whether their expressions of interest have been accepted until late July or August.
Manly and Mona Vale staff are expected to move to the new hospital at the end of October.
However, the staff transition process is running at least a year behind the promised timeframe.
This was laid out in a Healthscope newsletter dated 28 April 2015, which advised: “From 2016 Healthscope will commence detailed work with Northern Sydney Local Health District on the migration of staff and establish a clear and simple expression of interest process for those who choose to migrate.
“To fill the remaining vacant positions, the external recruitment process will begin in 2017. Information about jobs will not be available before 2017.”
In reality, sketchy job information has only recently become available to staff and the external recruitment process has yet to begin.
“When we read the hospital newsletters the news is all very positive,” Lisa says.
“But the transition process is way behind schedule, has not been ‘clear and simple’ and it’s left many staff members feeling incredibly disappointed.
“I feel the ministry and local health district have let us down.”