Push for mandatory Intensive Care standards
Critical care nurses take staffing case to health minister.
Nurses seeking solutions to the staffing crisis that is hammering intensive care units across NSW are due to meet Health Minister Brad Hazzard for a fourth time in February.
The nurses want practice and workforce standards set by the Australian College of Critical Care Nurses (ACCCN) to be made mandatory and uniform across NSW ICUs.
Critical care nurses, led by NSWNMA members, have campaigned for three years to have ACCCN standards accepted as the benchmark for critical care and staffed accordingly.
The campaign took a step forward in September when media publicity highlighted the ICU staffing crisis and around 750 critical care nurses signed a letter to then Premier Berejiklian and Minister Hazzard, calling for permanent staffing improvements to ensure safe patient care.
“We desperately want you to meet with our representative group so that you will understand the problems and work with us to fix them urgently,” the letter said.
Mr Hazzard accepted the invitation and had three meetings with a sub-group of a statewide ICU nurses’ network late last year.
NSWNMA officials including Brett Holmes (General Secretary), Shaye Candish (Assistant General Secretary) and Michael Waites (Manager, Public Health Organising Team) also attended meetings.
ICUs are operating to different standards
Michelle Rosentreter was among the experienced ICU nurse delegates from Level 5 and Level 6 ICUs, who met with Mr Hazzard and met separately with his ministerial advisers.
“The meetings were a bit frustrating because we had to repeatedly explain the functions of the various nursing roles – what a clinical coordinator is, what a team leader is, what an ACCESS nurse is, et cetera,” she said.
“I was taken aback to discover that the people who decide workforces for hospitals and advise the minister, do not even understand what their own clinicians do every day.
“We are encouraged that the minister is actually meeting with ICU nurses rather than only listening to district and local executives, who are trying to meet their KPIs and produce reports that don’t reflect the challenges resulting from inadequate staffing.
“We hope the next meeting will discuss how ACCCN standards can be implemented as a mandatory requirement, especially for levels 4, 5 and 6 ICUs.
“At the outset, we asked the minister to take the appropriate time to analyse what we were saying and meet us with a prepared response.
“We didn’t want rolling meetings for the sake of it; we wanted to reach some sustainable solutions.
“At the third meeting, the minister appeared to agree with us that it is unsatisfactory for every ICU in the state to operate according to different standards, which allows LHDs and local hospital executives to not honour the safe staffing profile we need on every shift.”
With at least one Sydney public hospital offering cash bonuses to nurses who agree to cut short their annual leave, and efforts to bring in more overseas nurses, Michelle says such “band aid” solutions can’t last forever.
“NSW hospitals have had a deplorable record of working under-resourced and over-census for many years.
“There needs to be the political will to lift budgetary restraints and allow hospitals to be adequately staffed and recruit the people they need.”