John Hunter Hospital nurses and midwives demand a fix to short-staffing problem

Nurses and midwives from John Hunter Hospital have spoken out angrily amid claims of major short-staffing in medical and surgical wards.

The NSW Nurses and Midwives Association says the hospital was 6695 nursing care hours short between the end of last December and June this year. Under the Public Health System Award, there should be a minimum of six nursing care hours per patient, per day.

About 200 nurses and midwives rallied in front of the Royal Newcastle Centre on Wednesday to voice their concerns about the impact short-staffing was having on staff welfare and patient care.

A midwife of 14 years, who spoke to the Herald on the condition that she not be named, said she worked five shifts in three days last week.

She said the problem had become increasingly worse in the past three to four years – dismissing management’s previous claim that a busier than usual flu season was behind the problem.

“I hate coming to work, it’s awful,” she said. “Patients suffer, we’re losing senior midwives at a rate of knots, we have juniors that haven’t got as much experience or may not be registered nurses and they’re not well supported by the senior midwives because we don’t have any time.”

Nurses and Midwives Association general secretary Brett Holmes said the situation at John Hunter Hospital had become untenable.

“The level of under-staffing at John Hunter cannot continue,” he said.

“Our members are fed up with inadequate levels of patient care, the opening of unfunded and understaffed beds, forced excessive overtime, sick leave not being replaced, an excessive use of under-qualified staff, missed meal breaks and unpaid overtime – just to name a few.

“Additional nurses, additional midwives must be recruited to meet the demands, the needs of this community.”

Hunter New England Health chief executive Michael DiRienzo said he was sorry that John Hunter and Belmont hospitals had not achieved Nursing Hours Per Patient Day (NHPPD) ratios in some wards. He said they are now meeting the NHPPD ratios and all units had always been appropriately budgeted to do so. Mr DiRienzo said there was no excuse for not meeting the ratio, but issues such as non-compliant and incomplete rosters and increased demand on services had been contributing factors.

“I am taking this very seriously and personally managing this issue to ensure that we meet this important award requirement,” he said.

Mr DiRienzo said his meeting with Mr Holmes on Wednesday afternoon had been “productive” and another meeting would take place next week.

“Our nursing staff work incredibly hard and I know this has affected them. For that I’m also very sorry,” Mr DiRienzo said. 

“We are fast tracking recruitment to all vacancies, working closely with nurse unit managers to improve rostering practices and have implemented a robust monitoring program that includes weekly reports to me to ensure compliance.”

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