Port Macquarie Base Hospital workers will stop work for an hour at 9am today (November 9), concerned that a newly refurbished ward will be understaffed when it opens.
Health Services Union (HSU) members will be supported by the members of the NSW Nurses and Midwives' Association (NSWNMA) this week in raising concerns about excessive workloads and chronic under-staffing across multiple wards and theatres.
Members fear patient safety will be compromised at Port Macquarie Base Hospital in the Mid North Coast Local Health District when extra beds inside a new ward open today to accommodate increased activity, as elective surgery returns to pre-pandemic levels.
HSU NSW secretary, Gerard Hayes, called on hospital management to properly staff the new facility.
"HSU members are furious at this situation. We won't stand by silently as public health and patient care is compromised," Mr Hayes said.
"What's the point of opening more beds than originally planned without adequate staffing?
"This is a pattern we see repeated all over regional NSW. The ribbon gets cut on gleaming new facilities but once the streamers and confetti are gone the staff aren't there to properly staff the facility.
"Of course it's our members who then cop the brunt of angry, disillusioned patients and their family.
"We have repeatedly called for an additional full time administration officer, additional food service workers, allied health professionals, health and security assistants and store persons.
"Today's stop work is just the beginning of our campaign to expose management's short-sightedness."
NSWNMA members will rally outside Port Macquarie Base Hospital on Wednesday, November 11 at 9.30am and use the opportunity to also raise concerns over the 0.3 per cent public sector wage freeze and decision to cap wages at 1.5 per cent from 2021.
Members of the NSWNMA Port Macquarie Hospital Branch passed a resolution on Friday, November 6 opposing the opening of the new ward and are seeking a commitment from management to stop opening beds across multiple wards until there is adequate permanent staff available.
NSWNMA general secretary, Brett Holmes, said serious staffing concerns were already raised with management, after data collected by the union showed less full-time equivalent (FTE) nurses rostered on the hospital's four medical and surgical wards compared to nine years ago.
"Despite patient activity and acuity continuing to rise, the hospital's own data shows nurse staffing levels have gone backwards, prompting widespread concerns over safe patient care," said Mr Holmes.
"For example, more than 40 shifts on a single ward were still to be filled this month. That is the equivalent of 328 nursing hours, which will have to be covered by casuals or overtime. Meanwhile, the hospital continues to open further beds without adequate permanent staff recruited.
"We're calling on management to urgently fill the current nurse vacancies across multiple wards, including operating theatres, and we're seeking additional nursing staff to be recruited to meet demand.
"Our members are constantly receiving text messages asking if they can pick up extra shifts. This heavy reliance on nurses working overtime cannot continue.
"The Port Macquarie community has suffered through elective surgery delays thanks to COVID-19. Now the Local Health District wants to power through the backlog and open up more beds with less staff across its medical and surgical wards.
"It's not safe for patients and it's unsafe to continue relying on the goodwill of nurses to battle through excessive amounts of overtime.
"Port Macquarie residents deserve an adequately resourced public hospital. Management must recruit more nursing staff immediately.
"This is another example of why the Upper House inquiry into hospital services in regional NSW is vital. We're encouraging the local community to let the Berejiklian Government know this is not good enough."
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