Louise Hall, SMH, 25.11.10
NURSES have pledged to shut down hospital beds next week if the state government does not meet their demands for mandated nurse-to-patient ratios.
More than 4000 nurses walked off the job yesterday and voted unanimously to continue industrial action unless the government agrees to consider introducing nurse staffing ratios in medical, surgical, emergency and palliative care wards, rehabilitation and inpatient mental health units, operating theatres and community health.
The nurses' union says the mandated ratio of one nurse to every four patients introduced into Victorian hospitals 10 years ago resulted in a safer environment for patients, improved staff morale and reduced patient complaints.
Advertisement: Story continues below The assistant secretary of the NSW Nurses Association, Judith Kiejda, said while mandated staffing ratios were expensive to fund, Victorian hospitals ''have not gone broke''.
She accused the government of failing to meaningfully discuss the union's claim despite attempts to negotiate with NSW Health since June.
''If the government won't fund positions to appropriately staff the public health system, then we will reduce the public health system to cope with the staff they will pay for,'' Ms Kiejda.
Intensive care, critical care, paediatrics and oncology wards and emergency departments would be exempted from the industrial action, she said.
Yesterday's strike took place despite a ruling by the Industrial Relations Commission that it be called off and calls from the government for the nurses to return to the negotiating table.
The Health Minister, Carmel Tebbutt, said a wage rise of 3.9 per cent in the first year and 3 per cent in the second year was served on the association last month. The offer was based on continued use of a ''workload tool'' to determine staffing levels based on the number of patients on a ward and how sick they are.
''Ratios can be a very inflexible way of dealing with staffing and workload in a modern hospital,'' Ms Tebbutt said, but the government is ''willing to talk to nurses about all elements of their claim with regards to wages and conditions and workload''.
Yesterday's strike forced hospitals to defer about 500 patients scheduled to undergo elective surgery, NSW Health said. Of these, half have been given a new date before Christmas.
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