EDITORIAL COMMENT: Fast action only way to save our saviours

When anger at a major nurses shortage boiled over this week, Hunter New England Health chief executive Michael DiRenzo immediately began treating the wound. Following a rally of 200 fed-up nurses outside John Hunter Hospital on Wednesday, where one veteran midwife told the Newcastle Herald “I hate coming to work”, Mr DiRienzo said there was no excuse for the hospital’s failure to meet the industrial award’s minimum nursing care hours. Union calculations revealed a deficit of nearly 7000 hours from December to June.

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

While Mr DiRienzo’s wound care offers a somewhat promising outlook for overall recovery, it falls down in one key, but vital area: timing. As any highly-trained medical professional knows, early intervention makes a world of difference to optimum healing, and it appears this shortage could have been addressed earlier. And the delay in treatment may well have resulted in the loss of the irreplaceable – dedicated, experienced and passionate nursing staff.

A midwife of 14 years told the Herald coming to work had become “awful”.

“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,” she said.

The rally at John Hunter was not the first indication something was unwell in the region’s nursing industry. On Tuesday the Herald revealed Belmont Hospital failed to meet its minimum nursing numbers for all but two weeks between January and August. And last week the Herald reported nurses were at “breaking point” due to low staffing levels and a steep rise in patient numbers during a record flu season.

Mr DiRienzo’s acknowledgement of the pressures his staff are under and the vital work they do, and his vow to improve the situation were commendable and welcome.

But symptoms of the condition have been present for at least nine months, likely more, and it seems treatment, rather than finger pointing, is only occurring after tensions escalated and exhausted staff said enough was enough. How many experienced nurses has the delay in rendering first aid cost us? And how big a scar will that leave?

Issue: 38,610