Blacktown goes after safer staffing
Taking action has helped midwives and nurses secure a promised staffing increase for Blacktown Hospital’s maternity service.
More than 150 midwives and nurses walked out during afternoon shift, after a vote by members of the NSWNMA’s Blacktown Hospital branch working in maternity services.
More than 80 per cent of members at the meeting voted to act.
They were joined by nurses from across the hospital who walked off the job in a show of support for their colleagues, who were advocating for safe patient care.
Members ensured enough staff stayed at work to keep affected units open and functioning.
The vote followed the deaths of five newborns at the hospital over the previous 18 months.
The number of babies delivered has increased rapidly over recent years, with an average of 11.5 births every 24 hours.
About 20 obstetricians had threatened to resign over unsafe staffing shortly before the midwives and nurses took action.
NSWNMA General Secretary Brett Holmes said management had failed to act decisively to improve patient safety.
Midwives had been “understandably traumatised by tragic deaths and believe the staffing issue has become untenable, putting their registration at risk,” he said.
Management of Western Sydney Local Health District (WSLHD) immediately took the dispute to the NSW Industrial Relations Commission (IRC), which, as expected, ordered staff to go back to work.
The IRC also ordered that no action be taken by any NSWNMA member working in the NSW public health system for three months.
But the action gained wide media attention for the midwives’ safety concerns and got the issue into the IRC, where management had to commit to resolve the midwife shortage.
As a result, the hospital has started advertising for an additional 15 full-time-equivalent midwives, an after-hours clinical midwifery educator and backfilled the vacant skin-to-skin midwife position.
Data collection for Birthrate Plus – the tool NSW Health uses to determine maternity staffing levels – is also underway and is expected to be completed in February/March 2021.
Management agreed to expedite the Birthrate Plus review by six months, after members highlighted the 30 per cent increase in birth numbers at Blacktown Hospital.
Midwives hope this will lead to further midwifery positions being created.
Brett said the commitments achieved were “a great outcome” for all nurses and midwives at Blacktown Hospital.
He said it came as a result of branch members taking action, attending meetings and rallies, speaking to media and giving evidence at the IRC.
“More needs to be done to ensure improvements across the service and hospital and together we can do this,” he said.
NSWNMA members still had to apply further pressure to hold management to its commitment to increase the number of midwives by 15 FTE positions.
They rallied in their own time outside Blacktown Hospital to demand that WSLHD advertise the positions without delay and act on other staffing issues, rather than referring them to a sub-committee for further delay.
The NSWNMA then ﬁled a dispute in the IRC, which caused management to advertise the new positions just hours before the IRC hearing began.
Talks over maternity services continued at the hospital’s Reasonable Workload Committee in January. NSWNMA reps said there was a more open discussion and “management were willing to discuss items that were previously off the table.”