Staff shortages blamed for problems with hospital care

Staff shortages have been blamed for compromising patient care at South Australia’s major country hospitals including Port Pirie.

Nurses say they have been left with little choice but to stop some admissions to hospital beds.

A joint review recently conducted by the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation SA Branch and Country Health SA led the federation to the view that Port Pirie, Port Augusta, Whyalla and Mount Gambier hospitals have an insufficient number of nurses to cater for patient care needs.

According to the federation’s state branch, Country Health SA has refused to increase staffing to combat the problem despite the findings of the review.

Branch chief executive officer Professor Elizabeth Dabars says the union has been left with little choice, but to support its members to take industrial action.  

“This situation is simply unacceptable — not only for our overworked regional nurses, but for the hundreds of patients in their care,” she said.

“There is a staff shortage—it has been uncovered in a review and in several months of site visits and consultations with nurses at each site.

“So, why then are our country nurses being left in a compromised position whereby they are essentially being forced to provide an inadequate level of care to hundreds of patients?”

But Country Health SA said the joint review showed that staff levels were sufficient and have called on the federation to cease industrial action.

“Staff numbers and nursing hours are set out in the nursing-midwifery enterprise agreement,” according to a statement by the organisation. Staffing levels provide for safe and effective care of patients.”

“We would like to reassure people that our country hospitals will continue to provide the best possible care.”

But Professor Dabars said members had been working well above their contracted hours to cope with demand. 

“It taking its toll on the health of nursing staff and is ticking time bomb when it comes to patient safety,” she said.

“Unless Country Health SA is prepared to come to the table with an acceptable solution, members across all four regional sites will launch industrial action next week.”

The action will result in limiting services to regional patients while nurses service only the number of beds to match the available staff numbers and their contracted working hours.

The South Australian Employment Tribunal has issued interim orders that the federation cease industrial action regarding the closing of beds.