More than 100 nurses and midwives have rallied outside Blacktown Hospital during an ongoing dispute with management over staff levels and working conditions.
The September 14 rally, which did not disrupt work or patient care at the hospital, came shortly after news Blacktown's emergency department was among the worst in the state for patient wait times.
Management claimed an unusually bad flu season was mainly to blame for the strain on staff, but other reports suggest the health district is not prepared for western Sydney’s rapidly growing population.
NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association organised the rally, with a media release in August warning the “serious workload issues and nurse staffing shortages” throughout winter at Blacktown Hospital called for “urgent intervention”.
Western Sydney organiser Fiona Deegan said the association’s members felt they were not being heard.
“The members out there don’t complain and don’t do things unless they’re really concerned. And it’s not just about themselves. They are really concerned about the care they’re able to give their patients,” she said.
Ms Deegan said in the week before the rally, staff worked 940 hours of overtime across 13 wards.
“That’s just half the wards. So staff are really tired, they’re really struggling, they feel they’re not giving patients the care they really want to give them,” she said.
“The nurse unit managers are really concerned about their staff and their patient safety.”
In a statement to the Sun, Blacktown Hospital nursing director Danielle Levis said the hospital had its highest ever number of patients last month. The 4465 patients was a 17 per cent increase on 3817 in August 2016.
“Despite this, our hospital staff, including our hardworking nurses, have done a fantastic job caring for the community and we thank them for their dedication,” Ms Levis said.
“We have processes in place to ensure nursing staff on sick leave are replaced. We are also actively recruiting to vacant nursing positions and interviewed more candidates last week.”
But Ms Deegan said it was not enough to only recruit to vacancies when some wards were at least 20 per cent over their budgeted capacity.
“They are recruiting, that’s excellent, and yes they were hit by a particularly bad flu season,” she said.
“But these issues have been around for 12 to 18 months. This is not new, this hasn’t just happened over winter. This is the new norm.”
Ms Deegan said the design of the hospital’s $700 million expansion was also creating issues for nurses.
Blacktown Hospital management and the nurses’ association are expected to meet again on October 3 to discuss the workload.