Nurses say career is on life support

Sunday 12th August, 2012

Nurse delegates from around NSW gather at Rosehill for the annual 2012 nurses conference. L to R - Meagan Hatch, Jillian Thurlow, Gil Wilson and Edward Makepeace. Picture: Sam Ruttyn Source: The Sunday Telegraph

Hundreds of nurses gathered at the NSW Nurses Association annual conference in Sydney this week.

Delegates revealed heavy workload, staff shortages and financial strain hampered their ability to deliver patient care.

Central Coast emergency department nurses told The Sunday Telegraph they regularly worked 12-hour shifts without a break due to shortages.

"We go without breaks and without going to the bathroom," registered nurse Jill Thurlow, 27, said.

"I think the emergency department nurses aren't recognised for what they do. We need to improve our staff-to-patient ratio.

"We want to provide safe patient care to the community and we can't do that with the current staffing levels.

"We want a ratio of one nurse to three patients," she said. "Sometimes we have one nurse to 50 patients."

Australia has 326,669 registered nurses, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare figures show - 6.8 per cent more than in 2007.

The number of nurses and midwives aged 50 or older rose from 33 per cent in 2007 to 38.6 per cent last year.

At the conference, nurses called for better pay and longer annual leave entitlements, as well as restrictions on how many night shifts they would be required to work consecutively.

Aged care nurses said some nursing homes were overflowing and high-care patients are forced into low-care beds - therefore not receiving appropriate staffing levels their conditions require.

One nurse from Hornsby Hospital told the conference there were plans for nursing staff to be replaced with lesser-trained assistants-in-nursing in the mental health units.

She feared reducing the number of skilled nurses would diminish patient care.

"Nursing is a profession about caring," Lismore Base Hospital nurse Gil Wilson said.

"We need to start caring for the carers.

"There are huge workloads because patients are so much more complex these days," he said.

"The public expects so much of you and we don't want to let them down."

Emergency nurse Meagan Hatch, 33, said staff faced a lot of time pressure.

"There are a lot of productivity goals set on how many patients we can assess in certain times, when I think it should be about the quality of care," she said. "We want to dedicate time to our patients."

Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations figures show nursing enrolments rose from 31,000 in 2001 to 50,231 in 2008.