BELMONT Hospital has been operating with less than the minimum number of nursing staff required, a NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association (NSWNMA) audit has found.
The association investigated the hospital’s staffing arrangements in response to member reports of workload pressure and “excessive overtime” at the site.
Under the NSW Public Health System Nurses and Midwives Award, the “absolute minimum” number of safe staffing hours is 5.0 nursing hours per patient, per day, NSWNMA general secretary Brett Holmes said.
But across four wards and units, Belmont Hospital had failed to meet its minimum requirement for nursing staff for all but two weeks between January and August.
“Our members had been raising their concerns about staffing and workload issues for some time,” Mr Holmes said. “When Hunter New England LHD declined to volunteer the staffing information we requested, our subsequent investigations of the hospital’s own records revealed they were in breach of the award. Members also indicated to us that nurse unit managers had often been pressured not to allow their rostering budget to exceed the 5.0 nursing hours – a clear breach of the award.”
The NSWNMA filed a dispute with the Industrial Relations Commission of NSW against Hunter New England LHD in August.
The Commissioner made recommendations for Hunter New England LHD to comply with the award, inform nurse unit managers of the minimum requirement of nursing hours, and for spot checks of the data to continue until December.
Elizabeth Grist, executive director of clinical services, nursing and midwifery, said Hunter New England Health was committed to meeting the award requirements in relation to nursing hours per patient day.
“The district is currently undertaking a number of actions to ensure that the need to meet these requirements is well understood. We are monitoring our wards and units to ensure that the appropriate staffing levels are in place,” she said.
Mr Holmes said the under-staffing meant the demands of the community were not being met.
“When nursing hours are cut, care is delayed, medications are sometimes given later and personal care is either missed or delayed as well,” Mr Holmes said.
“Patients ultimately suffer and nurses suffer as well… there is not a shortage of nurses looking for work.”