HUNTER New England Health has defended its staff levels after more than 250 nurses and midwives at John Hunter Hospital voted to introduce “industrial bans” across the facility until staffing shortages were addressed.
The Newcastle Herald has previously reported claims of major short-staffing in medical and surgical wards at the hospital, with a NSW Nurses and Midwives Association (NSWNMA) audit showing the hospital was 6695 nursing care hours short between the end of December and June.
On Monday, members of the NSWNMA John Hunter branch voted to ban follow-up discharge phone calls from Thursday unless immediate measures were introduced to address safe nursing staff numbers.
Elizabeth Grist, the executive director of clinical services, nursing and midwifery, said John Hunter Hospital had been meeting its staffing requirements since award breaches were brought to attention in September.
“In the last month we have actually recruited 52 nursing positions, and that encompasses enrolled nurses, registered nurses, and midwives,” Ms Grist said.
“We have also made sure that we are consistently meeting the nursing hours to patient days.”
Ms Grist said not all of the new staff had started. But sick leave had dropped after the “dreadful winter,” and overtime “had dropped.”
Brett Holmes, the general secretary of the NSWNMA, said some nurses were doing up to 30 follow up calls each.
“One emergency department nurse was taken off the floor and sat in a room to do six hours of follow-up calls to churn through them. They are an important outpatient service, but our members are calling for other clinicians and allied health staff to complete them while the current understaffing exists,” he said.
Mr Holmes said Hunter New England Health had begun complying with the minimum nursing hours required by forcing nurses and midwives to work overtime. The service had identified a “head count” of 52 positions, but there was no indication the roles had been filled, that new staff had begun, or whether they were “full time equivalent” positions.
Ms Grist said each of the wards at the hospital averaged four follow-up phone calls a day.
“In the wards, if they feel they are not fully staffed… if there is any occasion they are not able to make those phone calls, we’re going to make sure it is not the nurses or the midwives who make the calls,” she said.
“We do appreciate what they do, and I know how hard they work. I want to listen and work through these issues with them.”
Read more about the problems here.