Outrage over jobs cut forces LHD re-think
A public backlash against a proposed cut to emergency department nursing hours at Murwillumbah District Hospital has forced management to think again.
Northern NSW Local Health District announced it would strip 3.08 FTE (full-time equivalent) nursing positions from the ED roster, despite patient presentations continuing to rise.
This would have cut the morning and afternoon shifts from three nurses down to two – a cut in total ED nursing hours of more than 20 per cent.
The hospital’s NSWNMA branch voiced its concern for patient safety, demanded to be consulted and took the issue to the media and the local community.
As a public campaign against the cuts gathered strength, LHD management came back with a revised plan.
It proposed a smaller cut of 1.88 FTE nursing positions, equivalent to losing one morning shift nurse Monday to Friday.
The branch said it would continue to oppose any cuts, while taking part in talks with management via a Union Specific Consultative Committee (USCC).
NSWNMA General Secretary, Brett Holmes, said members were outraged by the cuts, announced a year after the Berejiklian government’s election commitment to hire 5000 extra nurses and midwives, including 282 for Northern NSW.
“This decision is nothing short of shameful and flies in the face of the NSW Health Minister’s commitment last year to bolster nursing staff numbers across our regional hospitals,” Brett said.
LHD chief executive, Wayne Jones, claimed fewer people were using Murwillumbah’s ED and its deleted nursing hours would be transferred to Byron Central Hospital and Ballina District Hospital.
However, NSWNMA branch delegate Angela Gittus said Murwillumbah’s presentations and acuity of patients had increased every year for the last five years.
“Not only have we had no increase in nursing hours, we’re now looking down the barrel of even less nursing hours.”
She said the need to increase staffing at one hospital should never result in cuts to another hospital.
“Our branch absolutely supports other EDs in the region having safe and appropriate staffing, but what we oppose is the LHD effectively robbing Peter to pay Paul.
“The LHD have not looked at the clinical needs of Murwillumbah, and asked themselves, how many nurses is safe?”
Community is protective of its health services
Angela said the nurses have very strong community support.
“People here identify as a small country town and are very protective of their health services.
“Community members took it upon themselves to distribute a petition, offered to organise rallies and community forums and set up a Save Murwillumbah Hospital Facebook page.”
She said LHD management was “quite heavy handed in their first interaction, but after noting the community response they returned with a more consultative approach”.
“It seems our determination not to be downgraded, and the incredible community support that we received, prompted the executive to listen.
“They have agreed that we are in consultation and have held off making a firm decision until that is complete.
“So we will be clear with them about the clinical risks of any loss of nurses and wait for the outcome.”
The LHD executive will meet Byron and Ballina hospital nurses and then meet delegates from all three EDs along with NSWNMA officers in a USCC.
Murwillumbah patients speak out
Murwillumbah nurses say they’ve been “overwhelmed” by many messages of community support and stories of people’s experiences at the hospital.
Rob Learmonth told The Weekly newspaper he went to the ED with chest and arm pain, which required two stents in his left coronary artery and three days in hospital.
Rob said the ED staff were “really fast and so brilliant”.
“Without a fully equipped and well-staffed ED at Murwillumbah Hospital I would have suffered irreparable heart damage and in the future a very poor quality of life.
“Having a well-staffed ED close to you could save your life.”
Eighty-year-old Edith Sisaric spent a night in the ED with severe bleeding and bruising.
“(ED staff) were absolutely tops; they looked after me from head to toe,” she said.
“It was so busy it was mayhem, but (ED nurses) really went above and beyond and they deserve better than this,” she said.
Edith said she was outraged by the proposed cuts.
“It’s criminal, it’s absolutely criminal.
“When I saw on the local news that they were cutting the staff I literally screamed at the TV because I just came from there and I saw how understaffed and overworked they already are.”
What the politicians say
Labor member for the state seat of Lismore, Janelle Saffin, has been out on the streets of Murwillumbah helping to collect signatures on a petition to stop the ED staff cuts.
‘It makes no sense to be targeting an ED that ranks second-best in the state for patient satisfaction and has a high ranking for meeting all of its clinical key performance indicators,’ she said.
Labor member for the federal seat of Richmond, Justine Elliot, told federal parliament that “virtually every business in town” was promoting the community petition.
She commended the NSWNMA’s Murwillumbah branch “for their incredible work as nurses providing outstanding care and also for their strong activism in fighting these staff cuts”.