The Southern NSW Local Health District has responded to calls from the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association for better working conditions by saying it “staffs its facilities to ensure patients are provided safe and effective levels of care”.
Members of the association’s Bega branch were recently among 19 of the 172 state branches who voted to turn down a state government offer of a 2.5 per cent pay increase in favour of pushing for better staffing ratios.
If we have 20 patients we want 5 nurses, but currently we just have four.NSW Nurses and Midwives Association Bega branch assistant secretary Diane Lang
The health district said NSW Health “does not use ratios”, but what it describes as a “more flexible set of principles and rules” under the award to help “identify how nursing staff are provided to wards”.
“This system gives flexibility in staffing and allows services to more closely align with patients’ needs,” a spokesperson said.
“It also allows flexibility to allocate nursing hours in a way that matches the busiest times and patient needs.”
They said they monitor “staffing levels on a regular basis”, with a Nurse Unit Manager able to “increase staffing levels above the award recommendation depending on clinical need and activity”.
NSWNMA Bega branch delegate and assistant secretary Diane Lang said the state’s method of calculating Nursing Hours per Patient Day is “outdated”, “complicated”, and fails to take into account staff workload.
She said staffing levels should be calculated shift by shift, and use a more simplified ratio system similar to that of Victoria and Queensland.
“At the moment a patient census is taken at midnight and averaged out over a week,” Ms Lang said.
“At midnight you may have 10 patients, and the next day you may also have 10, but you may have admitted five and discharged five.”
Ms Lang said the state’s system loses flexibility as staff workloads increase, and the association’s push for nurse-to-patient ratios will continue.
“If we have 20 patients we want 5 nurses, but currently we just have four,” she said.
The health district said this financial year the government will spend $8.1million in recruiting “a further 80 new specialised nursing, midwifery and support positions”.
The association’s general secretary Brett Holmes said a lack of a “mandated ratio for every shift on every day”, leaves “no minimum standard that patients can rely on”.