Bianca Vergouw, ICU nurse and president of the NSWNMA branch at Wollongong Hospital, described the Phase 1 ratio offer as “a very hopeful improvement on what we currently have”.
Bianca said the fact that ICUs would get an access nurse included in the award as a protected position was an important step forward.
“At the moment all ICU nurses are carrying a patient load. Having an access nurse as a separate identified role and enforced as such will really help staff on the floor.”
She said the initial inclusion of enrolled nurses in the staffing ratios for ICUs sparked a lot of debate among members.
Following feedback from members the NSWNMA subsequently got a guarantee from the Ministry of Health that all patients requiring ICU and HDU care would be nursed by an RN, except in Level 4 ICUs where ENs currently employed would continue to be counted in the ratios.
“The debate was actually really good because it got people talking and thinking about their workplace and what that might look like with the proposed ratios,” Bianca said.
“Members spoke up and by doing so, stopped the ENs from being counted in the numbers. It reaffirmed to people that if you have any issues you should speak up – they will be addressed.
“The feedback also strengthened the hand of our union reps at the negotiating table.
“We need to support them because they are the bridge between us at the coalface and those (in the government) who make the final decisions. It’s really important that we keep them up to date with what is acceptable to us and what is not.
“Also, it’s really refreshing to have a government that is brave enough to really listen (to nurses) and make changes. “We haven’t had that for so long.”
She said staffing improvements in EDs and wards would have a flow on effect that benefited ICUs.
“If people in ED waiting rooms are able to be seen and managed appropriately in time there’s a good chance that some of them may not even need to be admitted to hospital – or may not need to go to ICU.
“And if there are more staff on the wards there is a good chance we will see a drop in the number of patients who deteriorate to the point where they require intensive care.”
Talks continue over Maternity and multi-purpose services ratios
Negotiations on the introduction of ratios in maternity services and Multi-Purpose Services (MPS) are continuing.
NSWNMA Assistant General Secretary Michael Whaites said he hoped the Safe Staffing
Levels Taskforce would agree to recommendations to be put to members soon.
“I want to assure all the midwives … that we haven’t forgotten you. Our claim was for a review of Birthrate
Plus and minimum ratio of 1:3 on post-natal wards. There is a separate Taskforce working group going through those numbers.”
Regarding MPS staffing, NSWNMA General Secretary Shaye Candish said Taskforce negotiations were continuing on the Union’s claim for a minimum of three nurses (including at least two RNs) on every shift at small facilities, without reducing any superior staffing currently applying to larger MPS facilities.
“The workforce challenges are at their most critical (in some MPS facilities) and it really does need a careful, considered approach. “We want to make sure the ratios rollout is successful. Rolling out ratios to a site where they’ve had long-term recruitment issues and no plan for how they are going to fix those issues is not going to be in anyone’s interest.”
Positive start’ towards safer staffing
The Phase 1 ratios proposal is “a good start” in the process of achieving safe staffing levels, said NSWNMA member Wanda Gray, an RN on a medical ward at Wollongong Hospital.
“The ratios proposal shows that something positive is being done by the union and the government to improve conditions. Hopefully, it will help retain staff in the system,” she said.
Wanda, who has been a nurse for 44 years, is concerned that inadequate staffing and low wages are causing young nurses to leave the profession a lot earlier than nurses of previous generations.
“When a shift is not staffed according to the roster it puts a lot of extra responsibility and pressure onto all staff and particularly onto young and
“A lot of young nurses do a very good job but it is a big responsibility, especially if you have acute patients.”
She said her ward’s current rostering is already in line with the proposed ratios. However, “Our problem is finding enough staff to fill the roster.”
She said her managers did their utmost to find staff to fill the roster and the position of managers would be strengthened once ratios become mandatory.
“Mandatory ratios will mean that someone in the hospital administration or ministry will have to answer to the manager as to why they are not.