Nurses take action as Blacktown Hospital staffing woes continue

NSW Nurses and Midwives' Association Blacktown Hospital branch secretary Jackie Holmes leads a rally of overworked nursing staff in September this year. Picture: Sharon Hickey

NSW Nurses and Midwives' Association Blacktown Hospital branch secretary Jackie Holmes leads a rally of overworked nursing staff in September this year. Picture: Sharon Hickey

Nurses and midwives ceased all non-essential work at Blacktown Hospital last week, amid a “dangerous” staffing shortfall.

Members of the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association decided to prioritise front-line patient care above hospital audits, domestic cleaning duties, and pushing patient beds until vacant positions were fully backfilled.

The industrial action started last week after staff worked nearly 1500 hours of overtime in the previous three weeks, according to NSW Nurses and Midwives Association general secretary Brett Holmes.

Those working overtime also wore a red armband to highlight the issue.

The industrial action followed a rally in September this year after staff were pushed to the brink during a horror flu season.

Blacktown Hospital notified the dispute last Thursday, meaning staff have returned to the status quo in anticipation of a dispute resolution meeting this week.

Mr Holmes said 39 vacancies across 16 wards were causing issues including a poor nursing skill mix, missed meal breaks, increased bed numbers, and a lack of support staff.

“Despite countless discussions with management, there is still a lack in backfilling of temporary vacancies and an over reliance on lower classified staff to cover the shortfall,” he said.

“The issue has been going on for too long and our members cannot wait any longer. It’s an unacceptably slow recruitment process. We need more short-term solutions implemented to ensure patient safety is not compromised.”

Mr Holmes said it was important to get the staffing levels right before the Christmas period, typically a time of “very high demand”.

Blacktown Hospital nursing director Danielle Levis did not contest the amount of overtime worked, but said all front-line positions “have been and will continue to be backfilled”.

“Blacktown Hospital is currently spending more than $10 million to boost nursing staff numbers, in response to the increased demand on our services,” she said.

Ms Levis said Blacktown and Mount Druitt hospitals had recruited 133 new nursing and midwifery staff in the past 12 months, and would employ 130 more “in the coming months”.

She also said more porters and cleaners had been appointed during busy periods.

“Staff and patient safety is paramount and we are working hard to recruit to vacant positions as quickly as possible and hope to fill all vacancies before Christmas.”

Blacktown Hospital management is expected to meet with union representatives this week, after which point the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association will decide whether to take further action.