ARMIDALE hospital staff have brought out the placards for better nurse to patient ratios in what they describe as potentially "life-threatening" situations in a "broken system".
It was a NSW Nurses and Midwives Association (NSWNMA) rally, but the nurses and midwives were backed up by doctors, wardsmen, cleaning staff, and concerned community members in order to have their voices heard.
They're pushing for ratios to have one registered nurse to four patients in surgical wards, one to four in medical, and one to three in emergency.
NSWNMA Armidale community health and hospital branch secretary, Warren Isaac, said the system was broken now.
"There's too many senior staff leaving, young staff are working out of their depth on casual contracts and are doing double shifts because I think they fear to say they won't work in those conditions in case they lose their job," Mr Isaac told Australian Community Media.
"Nurses have been suffering on the wards for a very long time, the NSWNMA has been bringing this to the government's attention for about a decade now."
A Hunter New England Health (HNEH) spokesman said the current staffing system was a flexible ratio which "enables nursing staff to be redeployed where patient need is greatest".
"This ensures the busiest shifts have the most staff and local knowledge of workflows is taken into account in building the roster," he said.
The complexity of a hospital and its patients, as well as the professional judgement of nurses and managers is what decides staffing levels.Hunter New England Health spokesperson
"The NSWNMA has lodged an extensive claim that seeks a new ratio model that is more rigid than the current award ratio framework. Ratios do not reflect modern rostering practices."
Rally organiser Nola Scilinato said bigger hospitals like Tamworth were bearing the brunt of smaller facilities like Armidale, as these have fewer doctors, so patients were transferred to larger facilities.
"In Tamworth it's incredibly busy, most public hospitals are supposed to operate at 85 per cent occupancy, but for I don't know how long it's been running at 100 per cent or more, exceeding the hospital's bed base," she said.
"Even if they were fully staffed, the staffing ratio is wrong, even if they could fully staff to the reduced bed base, it is not adequate and that's why we want ratios."
But the HNEH spokesman said there were more nurses and midwives in NSW public hospitals than ever before.
"Between 2012-2020, the nursing workforce and midwifery workforce in NSW increased by 7693 full-time equivalent (FTE) staff, or 18.2 per cent, to 49,889 FTE," he said.
"The NSW Government is also investing in a further 5000 nurses and midwives over four years under a record $2.8 billion boost to frontline staff, as well as increasing nursing hours per patient day in peer group B and C hospitals from 5.5 hours to six hours and five to six hours respectively."
Armidale's deputy mayor Debra O'Brien attended the rally in her capacity as vice president of the Armidale branch of the Australian Labor Party.
Ms O'Brien said hospitals are not just buildings.
"Lack of staff puts us and our families' health and lives at risk," she said.
"I support the Armidale hospital nurses and health workers demands for higher nurse to patient ratios. Regions should not have lower health outcomes and shorter lives cities."
Mr Isaac said the rally was also run to show support for the Gunnedah hearing of the Inquiry Into Health Outcomes and Access to Health and Hospital Services in Rural, Regional and Remote NSW.
This hearing was held on Wednesday morning, and the branch secretary said one morning was not enough for health staff to voice their thoughts on the matter.
"We want the stories about unsafe care to come out at that inquiry," he said.
"We've got lots of problems and it's fair to say health is in crisis."
The NSWNMA has also put up a pay claim of 4.7 per cent.
Ms Scilinato said this was based on what staff didn't receive last year, because the 2.5 per cent wage gap was put in place for public sector workers.
"This year's claim includes what they didn't get plus the 2.5 per cent," she explained.
The spokesman said this claim had not been accepted by NSW Health.
"[It] has instead offered a wage increase consistent with the government's state-wide public sector wages policy and which reflects the prevailing economic conditions more broadly," he said.
Armidale Regional Council declined to comment saying it was a state government matter.
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