Grafton floats community campaign
Residents of the Clarence Valley in the Northern Rivers region learn that their hospitals are dangerously understaffed – and that nurses want solutions fast.
Retired nurse Stuart Garland was initially pleased when his 96-year-old mother had surgery for a fractured hip at Grafton Base Hospital in 2018.
The surgery went well. But from then on, “the care went downhill”, Stuart said in a letter to Grafton’s Daily Examiner in November.
“The nursing staff were doing double shifts and were almost a nurse down on every roster,” he said.
“Basic general nursing care” could not be met. The stress level of the nurses was “palpable and ongoing”.
Stuart said he and his brother raised concerns with senior management who assured them the nursing shortage was being addressed.
“That was more than 12 months ago. It appears no progress has been made to improve nursing numbers,” Stuart said.
He noted that Grafton nurses had recently launched a community campaign for safe staffing.
“So, it can be easily presumed that chronic understaffing is the gold standard set by the NNSWLHD (Northern NSW Local Health District).”
Dressed in their scrubs, and carrying banners and placards calling for nurse-to-patient ratios, about 30 Grafton nurses formed a ‘walking float’ in the city’s Jacaranda Festival parade in November.
They handed out flyers advertising a community rally in support of safe staffing.
“We were cheered, applauded and thanked for our work. It was lovely,” said Remana Harris, president of the NSWNMA’s Clarence Valley branch.
Before launching the community campaign, 22 branch members attended a campaign training session facilitated by the NSWNMA.
The branch, which covers Grafton Base Hospital and Maclean District Hospital, wants the Local Health District and the state government to urgently fund additional staffing.
For Grafton hospital, the branch is calling for one extra registered nurse in the emergency department across each shift.
It is also seeking an in-charge nurse who is not allocated a patient load in the general wards across each shift, and more support for nurse unit managers, particularly in the paediatric ward.
For Maclean Hospital, the branch wants an additional RN in the ED at night, and for their night duty in charge nurse to be without a patient load.
The branch calculates that 39 nurses have left Grafton’s ICU in the last three years and some have not been replaced.
Hospital records obtained by the NSWNMA showed that Grafton hospital’s ICU had been hit by seven resignations since March 2019. Advertising had failed to fill any of these vacancies as of mid-November.
“We’re working in unsafe conditions at the moment,” Remana said. “We are worried about patient safety and we want the community to feel that if they come to our hospital they will be looked after properly.
“Across the whole hospital, people who leave have not always been replaced. Many staff are disgruntled and have left to work at other hospitals in the region.
“In the ED at Maclean Hospital, the night shift has just one RN and one doctor, who does the whole hospital. That often leaves one RN alone in ED. The after-hours manager also takes a patient load at night.”
During the last state election campaign, the Liberal/National government promised to fund 5000 extra nurses.
From this number, Maclean Hospital is supposed to get an extra nurse on two wards. Nothing extra is allocated for the ED.
Grafton is not even mentioned in the government’s numbers.
NSWNMA General Secretary, Brett Holmes, said branch members approached hospital management about their concerns several months ago, but the ongoing issues remained.
He said members tried to raise concerns via the reasonable workload committee process, covering both hospitals.
“However, that committee hasn’t met for months, leaving these issues to go unresolved,” Brett said in November.
“We’ve had reports of excessive workloads and fatigue setting in. Many of the local nurses are forced to work with poor skill mix profiles and are also working short staffed because colleagues who take unexpected leave are not replaced.
“We also know many of the nursing staff are often working through their meal breaks, due to short staffing.
“They’re also being asked to work large amounts of overtime, which is unsustainable.”
MP says ‘short-term fix’ needed
The National Party member for Clarence, Chris Gulaptis, has acknowledged the need for a short-term fix for staffing shortages plaguing Grafton and Maclean Hospitals.
“Obviously I am concerned about the numbers of nurses at the hospital and what they have to deal with on a daily basis … We need something in the short term,” he told the Daily Examiner.
Mr Gulaptis said he would take to parliament a petition calling for urgent staffing improvements. He would also raise nurses’ concerns with the Northern NSW Local Health District.
“I will certainly go back to the LHD with their concerns because I am concerned about it and I think they need to be addressed,” he said.
The petition was initiated by the NSWNMA’s Clarence Valley branch and signed by over 500 residents.
The petition says nurses face unsafe staffing levels on a daily basis, resulting in excessive workloads, questionable skill mix profiles and avoidable risks to patient safety.
The branch is continuing its community campaign and hopes to get 10,000 signatures.