Blacktown Hospital staffing goes from bad to worse
Nurses demand an end to staff shortages that have left Blacktown Hospital in a critical condition this winter.
Exhausted and demoralised Blacktown Hospital nurses held a public rally for more staff and called on Western Sydney Local Health District to urgently intervene in the running of the hospital.
The rally demanded an early end to serious shortages of nurses and support staff that have hampered Blacktown Hospital throughout winter.
All wards have been surged well above their usual bed numbers without additional nurse staffing.
During August for example, nurses reported that surgical wards B45 and B41, which are each funded for 20 beds, were opening up to eight surge beds per day.
More than 100 nurses and midwives carrying placards which read “Nurses needed now” and “Blacktown deserves better”, joined the afternoon protest outside the hospital.
“It was an excellent turnout with a strong feeling of unity, which lifted many people’s spirits,” said NSWNMA Blacktown branch secretary, Jackie Holmes.
“The rally organisers spent a lot of time talking to people and encouraging them to attend. Nurses felt they were being listened to, which was really good.”
Coverage of the rally on Channel 7 News left viewers with the message that the state government is
building new hospitals but not staffing them properly.
“The message was clear: the government has got to be prepared to pay for qualified staff not just
beautiful buildings,” Jackie said.
Staffing at critical levels
General Secretary of the NSWNMA, Brett Holmes, told the rally that working conditions across a number of wards and units had reached critical levels and staff morale had plummeted.
“This has to be the worst we’ve seen at Blacktown for some time and it is imperative senior LHD management act promptly to alleviate the current unsafe conditions,” he said.
The branch was seeking the ‘like for like’ replacement of experienced nursing staff and more support staff to minimise the need for nurses to do non-nursing jobs.
The branch also wanted enough nurses with the required skills to be rostered before additional unfunded beds were opened.
Brett said management’s failure to roster enough nurses with the right skills to cope with an increase in patients over winter was detrimental to patients and staff and a breach of the Award.
“Many of the nurses are exhausted and demoralised. They routinely miss out on their full meal breaks and many are working unpaid overtime just to ensure the duties of their shift are completed safely.”
No plan for winter surge
Blacktown Hospital has been handicapped by a lack of planning and shortage of funds.
The NSWNMA’s branch secretary at Blacktown Hospital, Jackie Holmes, said management failed to plan for the 2017 winter surge.
“In 2016 they anticipated the surge, built up a casual nurse bank, worked out where to put additional patients and opened additional wards,” said Jackie, a clinical midwifery specialist in the birthing unit.
“This year they have not opened extra wards. Wards funded for 12 beds will sometimes have 14–16 patients.
“They try to blame the severe flu but we have an upsurge of patients due to flu every winter.
“Rather than plan for the worst-case scenario it looks like management hoped they could breeze through winter without spending too much money.”
She said understaffing had hit medical and surgical wards especially hard and there was strong pressure on staff to work overtime.
“Some nurses would prefer not to be doing any overtime. We advise people they are allowed to say no but it’s a very difficult situation to be placed in.
“A lot of people are doing a lot of overtime rather than see their colleagues struggle.
“Last week a NUM reported that one of her staff did 41 hours overtime in a fortnight.
“Nurse managers are getting hammered as well. They miss meal breaks, work longer than their rostered hours and spend the day searching for staff for the next shift.
“They are very frustrated and concerned about staff wearing themselves out.”
Nurses cleaning beds and rooms
Jackie said there was an over-reliance on casual AiNs.
“They are an extra pair of hands but they need to be supervised, which adds to the burden on already overworked nurses.”
Due to a shortage of support staff nurses have had to clean beds and rooms and move furniture to allow patients to be relocated.
She said the hospital recruitment committee repeatedly blocked attempts by nurse managers to recruit for vacant positions on the grounds that the hospital is “over budget”.
“We try not to let the staffing situation affect the patients but in the end, it has to. A lot of patients have had to be placed in wards that aren’t appropriate for them.”
Jackie said staff morale had been very low for at least two years but nurses hoped recent changes to senior management would bring a new attitude.
“They have told us they want to work with us to try to make it right.
For instance, they have said they will scrap the previous rule that agency nurses would only be employed for six hours to cover an eight-hour shift.
“They say they are also looking at creating a casual pool of support staff and reducing the over-reliance on AiNs.”