Tamworth Hospital staffing concerns ‘jeopardise patient safety’

Date: Jul 27, 2015

Staffing shortages at Tamworth Hospital’s emergency department are putting patient’ lives at risk, which could result in medical negligence claims if mistakes are made.

The NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association (NSWNMA) revealed serious problems at the facility earlier this month, with members of the union putting local hospital management on notice twice over the issue.

According to the organisation, Hunter New England Local Health District (HNE LHD) management breached the Public Health System State Award, which governs employment and pay conditions for nurses and midwives in NSW.

The NSWNMA alleged there is a long-standing problem with staffing on the hospital’s night shift. Darius Altman, lead organiser at the union, said members have gone public because they became frustrated with the perceived lack of effort to resolve the problem.

“We’ve got a situation where one nurse is being rostered on the night duty shift to cover both roles of designated resuscitation nurse and identified triage nurse within the emergency department of one of the state’s busiest rural referral hospitals,” he explained.

“Understandably, the branch believes the current night duty nurse staffing is insufficient and data collected over a two-week period indicates it poses strong risks to safe patient care within the emergency department.”

Medical negligence risk

Hospital staff who breach their duty of care to patients are at risk of a medical negligence claim, including nurses, which is why staff shortages create an additional burden.

As a result of the problems at Tamworth Hospital, NSWNMA members refused to move to a new site. They were concerned the premises, which has a larger emergency department, would be even more difficult to manage with current staff levels.

In fact, the union believed the patient influx could rise by as much as 10 to 15 per cent. However, nurses and midwives agreed to the transfer on Wednesday (July 22), after HNE LHD launched Industrial Relations Commission proceedings.

The commission recommended separating the triage and resuscitation nurse positions and making someone available for an additional four hours of night shift work until union data had been analysed.

General Secretary of the NSWNMA Brett Holmes said staff had welcomed the news, as it showed “real recognition” for nurses’ concerns.

“We look forward to a proper assessment of the emergency department workloads and the necessary numbers to meet those increasing demands upon our members,” he added.

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