Nurses protesting against cuts to the North Coast Area Health Service budget at Lismore Base Hospital in August.
Nurses protesting against cuts to the North Coast Area Health Service budget at Lismore Base Hospital in August. Jacklyn Wagner

Nurses to demonstrate against cuts

EXHAUSTED, angry nurses will gather tomorrow to protest against funding cutbacks they say are crippling North Coast health services.

The protest rallies, outside Lismore Base Hospital, Coffs Harbour Health Campus, Port Macquarie and Tweed Heads hospitals, are aimed at ‘telling the truth to the community’, according to the NSW Nurses Association North Coast organiser Jo-Anne McKeough.

And the truth, she says, is the region’s health services are not being slightly modified, as the health authority would have people believe, but that ‘the health service is on its knees and without a significant injection of funds, is not sustainable’.

Budget cuts had caused a reduction in community health services, overcrowding in emergency departments, a fall in the number of beds and an increased need for patients to travel to gain essential treatment, according to the association.

The situation was the result of 10 years of neglect of rural health services by the NSW and Federal Governments, especially in the North Coast and Greater West, Ms McKeough, herself a nurse, said.

The situation was getting worse, not better, because of a misguided funding allocation system that saw more money going to areas where there was a higher allocation of doctors, she said.

The loss of the pain clinic at Lismore Base Hospital was ‘significant’, Ms McKeough said, ‘but it is only one of many such losses’.

Staffing of positions such as ward clerks had been cut back to the bone, she said, meaning ward telephones went unanswered and there was a back-up of paperwork in patients’ files. And a result of hospital amalgamations was that the number of director of nursing jobs (formerly known as matrons) had been halved.

As a consequence, nurses were expected to work excessive amounts of overtime, which wore them out and made hospitals ‘unsafe’ for patients, she said.

The North Coast, like other rural areas, was particularly hard hit by such a slash and burn approach to funding, she said, because there were few doctors in the area who bulk billed, there were no agency staff to call upon to quickly fill a position and a growing population was creating greater demand.

Members of the public are invited to join tomorrow’s protests.



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