About 50 nurses and midwives from Liverpool Hospital used their lunch break on January 27 to protest under-staffing which is leading to extreme strain and unsafe work conditions.
The health workers carried hand-written placards with the words: “Public health system in crisis” and “Fatigued, worn out, exhausted, burnt out”. They chanted “Enough is enough, better staffing now”.
At a statewide meeting of the NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association (NSWNMA) a week before, a majority of delegates voted to condemn the state government’s handling of the pandemic. Nurses and midwives at Westmead Hospital held a similar protest on January 19.
To relieve the unsustainable pressure on workers, the NSWNMA is demanding the government: introduce a COVID-19 allowance for healthcare workers; allow nurses and midwives to access special leave when COVID-19 positive; and commit to implementing shift-by-shift ratios to ensure safe staffing levels.
“Well before the pandemic, nurses and midwives in NSW have been working understaffed and unsupported,” Shaye Candish, acting general secretary of the NSWMNA, said. "This [Omicron] peak has relied on our members working excessive overtime to keep hospitals running and staff [are] burning out."
She said the premier must urgently “commit to staffing improvements through safer nurse-to-patient ratios” to ensure more resilience in the healthcare system.
“This isn’t confined to one or two hospitals,” Candish said. “Nurses and midwives are well past breaking point, the current crisis of constant overtime and huge workloads will see many burnout and leave, meaning we will be in an even weaker position when the next wave hits.
“It should never have come to this. For years, nurses and midwives have been calling on the NSW government to increase staffing to address systemic problems.”
The NSWNMA released the results of a survey that found 60% of intensive care unit staff are considering leaving because of the additional work strain during the pandemic. “Members are telling us that they will get through this crisis, and then that’s it,” NSWMNA acting assistant general secretary Michael Whaites told AAP on January 26.
“A lot are saying, ‘Three to five years, tops’. They can’t see themselves giving anything more than that." He said if Premier Dominic Perottet really were thankful for the work of health professionals, he would have introduced safer staffing. "But there’s no action. There’s just words, and our members are increasingly frustrated by it.”