Prosecution case launched over broken health system

15 March 2023

The NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association (NSWNMA) has filed a major prosecution case in the Supreme Court against the state of NSW for widespread and repeated staffing breaches of the Public Health System Nurses’ and Midwives’ (State) Award.

Data obtained from a Government Information Public Access (GIPA) application has uncovered systemic and ongoing non-compliance state-wide, resulting in hundreds of thousands of missed nursing care hours.

Nurses and midwives, alongside NSWNMA leadership, spoke to the media this morning outside of the NSW Supreme Court.

Stephen Mansfield, a Registered Nurse at Concord Hospital told media; “Over the last year, I can count on one hand, the amount of times I’ve been on shift as a full-time staff member and we’ve had a full complement of RNs [Registered Nurses] or ENs [Enrolled Nurses]”.

Meg Pendrick, Enrolled Nurse and NSWNMA Councillor, spoke about how patients are often missing showers and meals because nurses are spread across so many patients that they physically don’t have the time. She also explained the emotional impact that has on nurses.

“My community is not getting the care; my patients are not getting the care. They’re getting sicker, they’re not getting noticed. What does that mean for our nurses? It breaks us”.

“It’s a job we want to do, we do it for a reason – because we care about you. But there’s not enough of us.”

NSWNMA General Secretary, Shaye Candish, said the sheer volume of nursing care stolen from patients demonstrated how the Nursing Hours Per Patient Day staffing model is broken, and vindicated calls for a safe and enforceable ratios system to be introduced in NSW.

“This evidence shows the NSW government’s preferred staffing model is no longer fit for purpose and, despite the best efforts of nurses working short-staffed, it is not delivering a safe level of care to patients when they need it most,” said Ms Candish.

“We are talking about hundreds of thousands of nursing care hours not provided on general medical and surgical wards, meaning patients may have missed timely care, such as blood pressure checks, wound care, or showers due to inadequate or unsafe staffing.

“Delays in clinical care can lead to suboptimal patient outcomes such as increased falls risks, hospital acquired infections like pneumonia, pressure area sores, and blood clots.”

In its prosecution case, the NSWNMA will argue patients at multiple major hospitals including Royal Prince Alfred, Gosford, Wollongong, Westmead, Liverpool and Nepean, have missed out on almost 120,000 hours of nursing care due to systemic understaffing.

“The 1,484 contraventions we are filing today are just the tip of the iceberg. If anything, we have been conservative in this prosecution and have not included a large number of other hospitals that also breached the award repeatedly,” added Ms Candish.

“Our case highlights Gosford Hospital on the Central Coast as the worst offender for staffing breaches, with 777 award contraventions over a four-year period.

“A further nine metropolitan and regional hospitals did not provide adequate staff per shift on more than 700 occasions from July to October last year resulting in substandard care.”

The prosecution Statement of Claim details 1,484 contraventions across 10 principal referral hospitals (Peer Group 1A) over recent months and years. The most significant breaches, totalling 777 contraventions, occurred at Gosford Hospital between 31 December 2018 and 30 October 2022. The remaining 707 contraventions (from 1 July 2022 to 30 October 2022) include:

  • Royal Prince Alfred Hospital – 155
  • Concord Repatriation Hospital – 107
  • Wollongong Hospital – 106
  • Westmead Hospital – 99
  • Liverpool Hospital – 86
  • Royal North Shore Hospital –77
  • Nepean Hospital – 37
  • Prince of Wales Hospital – 23
  • Bankstown/Lidcombe Hospital – 17

NSWNMA Assistant General Secretary, Michael Whaites said for many years nurses and midwives had highlighted the broken public health system was not ensuring an adequate level of nursing care to patients.

“This is the system our Premier says is working and is world class. It’s clear patients across the state, along with the nurses and midwives who care for them, deserve better,” said Mr Whaites.

“A shift by shift nurse-to-patient ratio system is the solution but the government refuses to acknowledge this.

“In the past, we have taken multiple non-compliance disputes to the NSW Industrial Relations Commission, yet the non-compliance continues. Patients are missing out on basic care and staff are being worked into the ground – it has to stop.”

The Supreme Court case could result in significant financial penalties if the state is found to have contravened the various public health awards.

Join the campaign calling for safe nurse-to-patient ratios here.

NSWNMA Media Release and The Lamp Article

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