Nurses from the NSWNMA Coffs Harbour Mental Health branch protested staffing conditions outside Coffs Harbour Health Campus today.
Nurses from the NSWNMA Coffs Harbour Mental Health branch protested staffing conditions outside Coffs Harbour Health Campus today. Emily Burley

Mental health nurses protest staffing shortages

STAFF shortages have sparked calls for action by nurses at Coffs Harbour Health Campus.  

The NSW Nurses and Midwives Association (NSWNMA) staged a lunchtime protest on the side of the Pacific Hwy today to highlight conditions at Coffs Harbour Health Campus's mental health unit.  

Association members say overtime at the unit has reached unsustainable levels, while private security officers and assistants in nursing (AiNs) are being used to replace departing, more qualified nurses.  

Association organiser Fiona Deegan said high levels of overtime and nurses working double shifts was an ongoing issue.  

"This has now got to a point where staff are really, really concerned for themselves and for patients' safety," Ms Deegan said.  

"The (NSWNMA Coffs Harbour Mental Health) branch met with management yesterday for discussions and they have put into place some helpful arrangements for the future in terms of recruitment, but in the short term that's not going to help here and now.  

"The current problem is that health and security officers, AiNs and private security workers are filling in the gaps when we cannot get nursing staff.  

"Clearly it is inappropriate to have unregulated officers working in these positions."  

Ms Deegan said the standard of care given to patients was negatively affected by the staffing arrangements.   "Yesterday they were down a shift and had no one to replace it, this morning they were down again - and this is regular.  

"This has been happening for quite a long period and it has reached a point where something has to change."  

The mental health unit is a 30-bed unit, broken up into six high-dependency beds and 24 low-dependency beds.  

Ms Deegan said the high-dependency section had "acutely unwell, highly aggressive" patients who require a high level of care.   

"They have not got the correct staffing ratio to cover that," she said.  

"Unfortunately this is a ministry problem rather than a local health district problem, because there are only 62 beds in all of NSW for intensive mental health care.  

"When locals want help those beds are full."  

Three beds in the local unit will now be closed to maintain safe staffing ratios.  

"The protest is simply to highlight to the local community the concerns the branch has with regard to unsafe care for local mental health patients," Ms Deegan said.  

Mid North Coast Local Health District acting chief executive Kathleen Ryan said they would continue to address issues raised by the nurses.



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