Outside Ballina Hospital are Accident and Emergency nurse Rita Lewis with Marny Thomas and Chris Blair from the New South Wales
Outside Ballina Hospital are Accident and Emergency nurse Rita Lewis with Marny Thomas and Chris Blair from the New South Wales

PATIENTS AT RISK; NURSES

By JANE GARDNER

STAFF shortages at Ballina District Hospital are putting patient safety in jeopardy, nurses say.

Registered nurse Rita Lewis, who has worked there for 18 years, said the current situation in the emergency department meant one nurse was required to do triage, general and clerical duties from 9.30pm to 7.30am, without breaks and often alone.

"During those 10-hour night shifts, you might only get time to have a glass of water and that's it," she said.

"At 4am, when you haven't had anything to eat, tiredness is a very worrying factor. "It's very unpredictable who will present to emergency.

Often people with psychological problems might come in and we are responsible for them. From Thursday nights we get a lot of intoxicated patients and patients on drugs (but) we just deal with it.

"As you can imagine, everyone is very stressed." The NSW Nurses Association (NSWNA) yesterday argued their case at a NSW Industrial Relations Commission hearing in Ballina.

The IRC's recommendation, to give the hospital 10 more nursing hours during the day and an on-call nurse at night, was received with cynicism from Sydney NSWNA union representative Marny Thomas.

"I am pleased they are recognising there is a problem, but we are still concerned with patient safety," she said. "Just one cardiac arrest patient will take up the attention of the nurse and leave them short."

The union claims that in some cases it could take up to half an hour for security to arrive if there is an altercation in the ED.

The union first raised the alarm last October when two critical incidents were reported at the hospital.

The North Coast Area Health Service's director of workforce development, Janne Boot, said the IRC's recommendations were appropriate.

"We have an average of five patients presenting to the emergency department at night," she said.

"We have a security officer roaming the hospital who carries a pager and is one minute away."

Ms Boot said the new on-call night nurse would be rostered between 50 nurses and admitted the on-call status would be compulsory.

Marny Thomas claims many of these nurses live up to 45 minutes away and by the time they arrived, the emergency situation would be at 'a critical point'.

Ms Boot said a nurse trained in emergency medicine from another ward would be available 24/7 to assist until the on call nurse arrived.



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