HEALTH Services Union (HSU) members are calling on Mid North Coast Health District management to consult in detail about plans to resource the reopening of ward 1B at Port Macquarie Base Hospital.
Union spokesperson Michael Kearns said the HSU will go back to the Industrial Relations Commission today, November 9, seeking support for "more genuine" consultation about measures to meet resourcing demands on nursing and hospital staff.
HSU members will again be supported by the members of the NSW Nurses and Midwives' Association (NSWNMA) who plan strike action on Wednesday, in raising concerns about workloads and chronic under-staffing across multiple wards and theatres.
Members fear patient safety will be compromised at Port Macquarie Base Hospital when extra beds inside the new ward open to accommodate increased activity, as elective surgery returns to pre-pandemic levels.
The HSU is calling for an additional full time administration officer, additional food service workers, allied health professionals, health and security assistants and store persons.
Stewart Dowrick, Chief Executive Mid North Coast Local Health District, said the opening of additional beds at the hospital, which are staffed in accordance with the relevant awards and NSW guidelines, aims to safely provide extra capacity for the care of patients.
"In preparation for the opening of these 12 new beds, consultation was undertaken with the Health Services Union (HSU) and NSW Nurses and Midwives' Association (NSWNMA) and both associations were advised of our intention to use this space from today (November 9)," Mr Dowrick said.
"Our doctors, nurses, allied health and support workers such as our administrative and cleaning staff have worked exceptionally hard on the frontline during the COVID-19 pandemic and continue to do so as we work to resume normal operations.
"The NSW government has committed an extra $21 million for elective surgery across Mid North Coast Local Health District, enabling additional staff to be employed and extra procedures to be undertaken."
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," Mr Holmes said.
"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.
Mr Dowrick said between mid-2012 and mid-2020 the Local Health District increased its workforce by an additional 867 full time equivalent staff - an increase of 31.8 per cent including 119 more doctors, 391 more nurses and midwives, and 56 more allied health staff.
At Port Macquarie Base Hospital, nursing staff have increased from 347 full-time equivalent (FTE) in 2010-11 to 497 this year.
"Many of those staff choose to work part time and our organisation prides itself on offering choice and flexibility," Mr Dowrick said.
He said in 2019-20, MNCLHD invested $673 million in its health services, an increase of $31 million on the previous financial year's annualised budget.
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.
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