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Staffing crisis in hunter new England: industrial relations commission orders health district to find solution after NSWNMA sounds alarm on award breaches.

PUBLIC PROTESTS BY NURSES AND MIDWIVES at three hospitals in the Hunter New England Local Health District have alerted the public to routine shortfalls in mandated nursing hours.

Nurses at Armidale, Gunnedah and Tamworth hospitals held lunchtime rallies to highlight the safety risks inherent in frequent understaffing.

The NSWNMA has asked the Industrial Relations Commission to help bring an end to routine understaffing at Tamworth Base Hospital, in breach of the public health system award.


Commission deputy president Rodney Harrison has told the LHD it must find ways to meet its staffing obligations according to the award.

Commissioner Harrison gave the LHD and the Association eight weeks to examine data from across the district and agree on solutions to understaffing.

He will then assess what progress has been made.

General Secretary of the NSWNMA Brett Holmes said staffing spot checks over several months revealed that many of Tamworth's wards had regularly fallen under the required nursing hours per patient day.

Brett said that despite the Public Health System Nurses' and Midwives' (State) Award 2011 stating "action must immediately commence to rectify the shortfall" management continued to ignore its legal obligations.

"The issue reached a critical point in the maternity unit, mental health unit, medical and surgical wards, orthopaedic ward and rehabilitation ward," he said.

Brett said it was unacceptable for Hunter New England health district management to ignore representations by the branch, given that nurses had a professional obligation to ensure safe patient care, using the guaranteed nursing hours allocated by LHD management.

Commissioner Harrison said NSWNMA and LHD representatives should meet weekly to look at data relating to staff-levels across the LHD.

The NSWNMA asked the LHD to provide it and branch officials with weekly data so they can check the accuracy of numbers at Tamworth.

The NSWNMA wants data collection to go beyond spot checks to also include overtime worked--including time in lieu --as well as bed numbers and use of surge beds, so that all patients are counted.

Tamworth branch secretary Jill Telfer CNS said members were encouraged by Commissioner Harrisons statement that management would have to show that they were meeting the award staffing requirements.

"Understaffing in breach of the award is not unique to Tamworth and members are looking at this as a test case" Jill said. "The LHD's own data shows they have frequently failed to meet award requirements at Tamworth since at least October 2014.

"Some wards are regularly short 50 hours per week and our mental health unit has suffered a phenomenal shortfall greater than 200 hours per week.

"The maternity unit has also been badly understaffed with a poor skill mix. The midwives have been very supportive of the branch's campaign to highlight the issues, both within maternity and the general wards"

Jill said the problems were made worse when the hospital opened surge beds without extra nurses.

"Our nurses are working really hard to make sure that everyone up here is safe. Local management has tried hard to fix the problems but they have neither the budget nor the staff needed.

"Our big concern is, how are we going to cope in winter, our busiest time?

"We need the problems fixed now so we can come to work knowing we have enough nurses to look after the patient load."

At Armidale Rural Referral Hospital the NSWNMA branch passed a resolution calling on management to immediately rectify workload issues.

About 40 branch members and supporters rallied outside the hospital to raise public awareness of understaffing.

Brett Holmes said branch members repeatedly raised concerns about shortfalls in mandated nursing hours for the medical and surgical wards, but were disappointed by management's lack of urgency on the issue.

Management has since told the branch it is attempting to recruit more nurses.

The Armidale action followed a rally by NSWNMA members at Gunnedah hospital to protest understaffing.


How to resolve an issue--follow these steps

Remember there is a free NSWNMA smart phone app to help you calculate required nursing hours (under the public health system award) and to record hours and patient counts for weekly spot checks.

Issues on your unit

For example, missed breaks, unreasonable overtime, no access to education, sick leave not replaced, or "like-for-like" not replaced, patient safety, short staffing, poor skill mix.


Report the matter to the Nurse Unit Manager at your ward meeting. On a Nursing Hours Per Patient day ward, ask for a spot check.


If the matter is unresolved at ward level see your reasonable workloads committee (RWC) representative.

Work issues

Work issue not related to workloads but affects more than one person. For example, collective issues such as parking, security and safety.


Contact your branch representatives and download the NSWNMA toolkit spot check app from iTunes and Android stores *.


Collect data for two weeks then send it, with solutions, to the RWC with your name and ward.

Individual or professional matters


For example, pay queries, leave issues, police interviews, coronial matters, fact finding, Ldisciplinary matters or professional issues.


Contact the NSWNMA immediately on 8595 1234, 1300 367 962 or Include your name and membership number.


If the issue is not resolved after two RWC meetings, members should follow formal grievance

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Publication:The Lamp
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:May 1, 2015
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