Ratios are key to reducing violence
Achieving the NSWNMA claim for ratios would help to reduce the level of violence and aggression in mental health units, says Eliza Wright, secretary of the NSWNMA’s Blacktown City Mental Health Branch.
She says ratios would “give us the capacity to spend meaningful time with our patients and get to know them better, so we can anticipate problems more easily and de-escalate incidents a lot more effectively”.
She says the NHPPD (nursing hours per patient day) system doesn’t adequately take into account the acuity of patients and gives management too many loopholes.
These loopholes regularly leave Eliza’s ward with around one nurse to six patients on morning and afternoon shifts and one to eight at night, which, she says, is seriously inadequate.
The NSWNMA recently went to the NSW Industrial Relations Commission to successfully block a management attempt to cut morning shift staffing at the acute mental health unit of Blacktown Hospital.
Management claimed the shift was overstaffed according to the NHPPD formula.
“We successfully argued that NHPPD was supposed to be the bare minimum level of staffing and a staff cut would be detrimental to both patients and staff,” Eliza said.
“If we had proper ratios the staffing requirements would be clear and that would benefit mental health units across the whole state.
“Nights are particularly volatile, we’ve got a skeleton staff, but we still accept admissions, so anything can happen.
“Only a week ago, a patient assaulted all four nurses on night shift. One of them was punched repeatedly while another was physically held hostage. It was a horrific incident, and those nurses all required time off work. They feel shaken up and overwhelmed.
“Incidents like these leave us feeling unsafe and undervalued at work, especially when it feels like management is more interested in cutting staff to save money. We shouldn’t have to go to work not knowing if we’re going to make it home safe that night.
“Having four nurses on night shift does not even allow us to effectively observe the de-escalation guidelines which say you need five nurses to restrain a violent patient.”
Eliza says free parking for nurses is another important aspect of the award claim.
“Most nurses have no alternative other than to drive to work but parking is difficult. Some people have to park in the two-hour zone and keep running outside to move their car.
“I have the cost of onsite parking deducted from my pay and it’s over $1000 a year.”