Hospital putting ‘patients at risk’
Former employees at a NSW hospital have spoken out about a horror management system they say is putting patients' lives at risk.
Staff say nurses are being forced to work on wards they have no qualifications for and in some instances have been replaced by hospital assistants at Manning Hospital in Taree.
They also say the emergency department is running with more open beds than staff to handle them.
Hunter New England Health maintains, however, the hospital is adequately staffed and it provides high-quality care for all patients.
One former staff member said patients were at risk.
"Staff and patient safety is being compromised by leaving entire wards to be run by one staff member," he said.
"The mental health unit is replacing nursing staff with wardsmen.
"This is just the tip of the iceberg. The hospital is also using unpaid nursing students to fill paid staff vacancies and counting them in staffing numbers."
Another former staff member said they were not relieved for breaks and were forced to come into work if they didn't produce a medical certificate for one sick day.
"They were forcing staff to work in areas they're not trained in, which included premature babies," she said.
"Having staff in the nursery, that increases the risk of not detecting a complication and not being adequately trained if an emergency comes through.
"As far as I know there hasn't been any adverse outcomes but there was a potential for that to happen."
While the health service did not deny the staff members' claims, it said it was usual practice for other paediatric staff to rotate through the unit.
A former staffer said nurses were having to take stress leave because they were concerned about working in a ward where something could go wrong and they weren't trained to deal with it.
"They had more beds open than they should have, so you've got less time to spend with patients and provide care," she said.
"It's putting patients at risk. It certainly affects care and the risk of adverse outcomes increases dramatically."
Hunter New England Health greater metropolitan health services executive director Karen Kelly told news.com.au the special care nursery was always staffed by a core group of specialist registered nurses and midwives.
"Other paediatric staff rotate through the unit, which is usual practice for all NSW public hospitals, as part of ongoing training and skill development requirements," she said.
"Training is provided to staff by the clinical midwifery educator and the paediatric clinical nurse educator."
Ms Kelly said Manning Hospital provided high quality care for all patients.
"The facility, including the emergency department is staffed appropriately," she said.
"To ensure the delivery of safe care we continuously monitor patient and staffing numbers.
"The number of ED presentations has increased over the years and this has been matched
with enhancements in both medical and nursing resources."
She said the hospital had recently boosted senior medical staff numbers in the ED from three to five senior medical officers, and a staff specialist emergency medicine director would start shortly.
"Manning Hospital is working hard to improve ED performance and ensure patients receive
timely and quality care," she said.
NSW Nurses and Midwives' Association assistant general secretary Judith Kiejda said members had been "working through a number of issues with local management", including staffing concerns and the ability to provide safe patient care to everyone who comes through the door.
She said 32,960 patients presented to Manning Hospital in 2018-19, a 47 per cent jump since the new emergency department opened in 2009 when 22,000 patients presented annually.
"Our members have raised serious short staffing concerns in the emergency department … and we're hopeful local management will provide some concrete answers," Ms Kiejda said.
"The ED is staffed for eight beds and one resuscitation bed, but they're often operating with 14 spaces open and relying on nurses from other parts of the hospital to fill in.
"We've heard Hunter New England Health has been told to find cost savings in the order of $50 million this financial year and we're aware they've been reviewing staff resources across the district to achieve it."
Ms Kelly said most patients were leaving the emergency department within the four-hour target despite the increase in the number of patients coming through.
The NSW Government was investing $140 million at Manning Hospital to deliver a new, purpose-built facility, Ms Kelly said.
She said the 2019-20 budget for Hunter New England Health was nearly $2.4 billion, an increase of more than $72 million on the previous year.
Ms Kiejda said Hunter New England Health had a duty of care to the people of Manning and its surroundings.
"It really should be transparent with its own nursing staff about what's occurring," she said.
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