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Byron Shire
October 22, 2021

​​​​​​Nurses and midwives ‘on tenterhooks’ over reopening of NSW

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NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association (NSWNMA) members are urging local communities to exercise caution from next Monday, worried any spike in COVID-19 hospitalisations could overwhelm the health system and its already stretched nursing workforce.

Nurses and midwives have described being ‘on tenterhooks’ about staffing shortages in Northern NSW public hospitals, while the state focuses on reopening after 15 weeks in lockdown.

​​​​​NSWNMA General Secretary, Brett Holmes, said widespread staff shortages were compounded by pandemic fatigue, particularly in regional areas like Northern NSW, where over 160 full-time equivalent (FTE) vacancies have been reported across the Local Health District.

Struggling with staff shortages

‘Prior to the pandemic, many public hospitals were struggling with staff shortages and relying on nurses and midwives’ goodwill to accept regular overtime requests to keep their services open,’ said Mr Holmes.

‘Unfortunately, that reliance hasn’t dissipated and now we’re hearing there are currently 163 FTE nursing vacancies in Northern NSW, with most in critical care, emergency, or medical and surgical departments.

Mr Holmes says NSWNMA members at Lismore, Tweed, Grafton and the surrounding regions are all anxious about what lies ahead, given they have a very limited casual or agency pool to draw from. ‘This is taking a toll on the remaining nursing staff, who often feel compelled to keep accepting overtime requests.

Text messages sent to nurses daily

‘Text messages are being sent to nurses daily, begging them to start early or work double shifts, to address the shortfall. This is not sustainable, especially when nurses and midwives can access safer workloads, as well as better pay and conditions, over the border in Queensland.

‘There’s still a large portion of experienced nurses working in vaccination hubs and testing clinics, while our local hospitals grapple with understaffing and a junior workforce seeking support and clinical guidance.

‘As the community looks forward to reintroducing some normality into their lives from next week, nurses and midwives don’t get to share in that luxury. They’ve had very little reprieve since the pandemic hit our shores some 22 months ago, and it’s far from over.’

The NSWNMA has encouraged Northern NSW Local Health District to explore all recruitment options to fill the current vacancies and urged other regional health districts to follow suit.

Situation isn’t isolated to Northern NSW

NSWNMA Assistant General Secretary, Shaye Candish, says the situation isn’t isolated to Northern NSW. ‘Our members in many other regional hospitals are struggling with understaffing.

‘We’re aware Port Macquarie Base Hospital has had over 70 FTE vacancies recently, Maitland Hospital has more than 30, while Wagga Wagga Hospital is grappling with 64 FTE vacancies.

‘These shortages put enormous strain on the remaining workforce, not to mention the additional stresses of the pandemic we’re still navigating our way through,’ she said.

The NSWNMA called on the NSW Government to prioritise the health and wellbeing of all nurses and midwives by introducing nurse-to-patient ratios on every shift, in every ward across the state.

Members have done the hard yards

‘Our members have done the hard yards in extremely tough circumstances and there’s still a way to go, but the best way forward is to deliver statewide nurse-to-patient ratios,’ said Mr Holmes.

‘The NSW Government must listen to nurses and midwives on the frontline and not ignore the fact Queensland, Victoria and Canberra all have ratios. We need a better health system in NSW and to achieve that, you need more staff.’


 

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3 COMMENTS

  1. I’m a Nurse in Northern NSW and this is not the full story. The hospitals here haven’t been effected by the pandemic as there have been very very few cases here since the pandemic begun. Nursing shortages have existed long before the pandemic due to in sufficient budgets for nursing staff. The reason there are so many shortages right now is because a large proportion of staff left and are not allowed to work as they are not vaccinated. Nurses and other health care workers leaving a career vs taking an experimental drug should be the real story here.

  2. This is very confusing. The shortages predate the pandemic but the real reason that we have shortages now is because a “large proportion” don’t want to be vaccinated? When over 90% of the NSW population have voted with their feet and arms for vaccination, there must be a very bog concentration of dissenters in northern NSW.

  3. The media, including the Echo seem to be echoing the same rhetoric… Chanel 7 is calling it The Great Resignation.. and they are talking about record numbers of people quitting their jobs. Over 4 million in the USA.. and the trend is following in Australia. Do they mention that it’s because people don’t want to be forced into taking an experimental procedure/s? Nope. And that’s when you know the media is purely a machine for creating propaganda – inventing a reality they want people to see instead of discussing, as real news should, that a large majority of citizens all over the world are absolutely against these inhumane mandates.

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