The New South Wales Nurses Association warned that it would keep closing-down beds at Royal Prince Alfred hospital in Sydney’s inner west and the Wollongong Hospital until a consensus is reached regarding staffing levels. This Tuesday 40 beds were closed at Wollongong protesting to see a one-nurse-to-four-patient ratio introduced. Beds in the paediatric, intensive care and maternity and emergency wards are spared. Some surgical, rehabilitative and aged care beds are closed.
According to a union spokeswoman Lisa Kremmer the action will continue until the State Government agrees to negotiate. She said, “We do not have plans at this point in time for the action to cease… We need to send a strong message to the government about the importance of ratios.” This decision to close beds, she said, was a difficult one for the nurses. She added, “Unfortunately there is no other option for nurses and midwives to take this action…I think that the level of action being taken is because nurses and midwives are so passionate about their patient care.”
Acting general secretary for the NSW Nurses Association Judith Kiejda said, “We’re in this for the long haul… We will just continue shutting down beds -- we will do this for January, February, March, whatever it takes.” For every four non-essential-care beds that become available in the lead-up to the March election, one will remain closed she added.
The closure of beds, according to the South Eastern Sydney Illawarra Area Health Service, has not affected patient care. A spokeswoman from the Health Service assured that urgent care will be provided and the health department would like to continue talks with nurses, but not under the threat of industrial action.
NSW Health Minister Carmel Tebbutt also said that the NSW government would not negotiate with the union during active industrial action. She said, “Our concern has always been that a nurse-to-patient ratio is a very inflexible way of staffing a modern hospital.” She said nurse salaries in NSW had increased by 57 per cent since the end of 1999 and the number of nurses working in NSW hospitals had increased by 10 per cent since 2005. Opposition health spokeswoman Jillian Skinner however said the Labour government, preoccupied with the number of ministers was “leaving a sinking ship” and had failed to negotiate with nurses. She also said that it cut back 340 nursing positions in high-need areas.
The Australian Medical Association (AMA) NSW has called on the government to meet the recommendation. AMA NSW vice-president Dr Michael Gliksman said, “There needs to be an agreement from the government to properly staff hospitals and, just as importantly, ensure they remain properly staffed.”