Emergency department (ED) nurses at Blacktown and Westmead Hospitals walked out of work on the morning of July 18.
The New South Wales government’s refusal to address severe understaffing prompted the nursing staff to walk out at the end of their night shift. They were supported by nurses from Intensive Care Units (ICU), operating theatres, general wards and midwives.
NSW Nurses and Midwives Association (NSWNMA) general secretary Brett Holmes said the key issues motivating the nurses were extended patient waiting times in overcrowded EDs and the lack of safe nurse-to-patient ratios.
He said the union is being informed of “high rates of burnout and fatigue” due to “regular requests for overtime work and constant double shifts”.
The rise in people presenting with flu and COVID-19 infections has overwhelmed EDs. He said many senior ED nurses have reduced their hours, and others are leaving the profession altogether.
“There has been little to no reprieve for our members because urgent measures are not being taken,” Holmes said.
The NSWNMA said between 50 and 100 unfunded beds were recently opened to help with demand at Blacktown and Westmead hospitals. However, there are not enough nurses rostered to care for patients in these extra beds.
NSWNMA Blacktown Hospital branch delegate Jess said nurses were sacrificing their own health and wellbeing. “We are constantly short staffed and overcrowding is rife. We’ve had upwards of 40 or 50-plus people stuck in our ED waiting rooms during the night, sometimes more. We’re really worried about non-COVID patients having to wait alongside positive COVID-19 patients.”
NSWNMA Westmead Hospital branch delegate Denny Anderson said conditions inside EDs were at breaking point. “We’re on the cusp of yet another wave of the pandemic, coupled with increased cases of flu and other viruses, but already we are treating too many patients in corridors, while others are sleeping on the floor.”
The NSWNMA said it was continuing to push for safe staffing ratios in EDs, as well as other understaffed specialty areas, including in ICUs, paediatrics and maternity.