Excessive workloads put patients at risk at city hospital
NURSES at one of Toowoomba's two private hospitals fear excessive workloads and under-qualified staff have reached a "critical point" that is affecting patient safety.
Nurses at St Vincent's Private Hospital have singled out their youngest patients, saying newborns in the Special Care Nursery were being looked after by "inadequate numbers of registered nurses" and that staff with fewer qualifications were being "used inappropriately" in the neonatal ward.
"They believe things are becoming unsafe," regional organiser for the Queensland Nurses and Midwives Union Helen Andersen said. "They don't feel they can give the care and the quality of care patients need."
On Tuesday nurses called an urgent meeting with hospital management, the first of its kind in several years.
While nurses from maternity, intensive care, special care and operating rooms met with the hospital's human resource's manager and director of nursing, more than 30 colleagues showed their support by congregating in front of the hospital.
In a four-page summary of the meeting obtained by The Chronicle, nurses claim "workloads are excessive on many shifts in several units with not enough appropriately skilled staff to ensure the safety for the number ... of patients".
They also say they are unable to take meal breaks because of staff shortages, are bearing the brunt of patients complaining about construction noise and have pay disputes.
Hospital CEO Kathryn McKeefry said "the hospital committed itself to investigating and responding to the issues raised" at Tuesday's meeting.
"St Vincent's Private Hospital Toowoomba is committed to maintaining and upholding the highest standards of care and safety for patients and staff.
"All of the hospital's current arrangements meet legislative and other requirements to ensure our clinical services are safe and appropriately supported," she added.
The escalating workplace dispute comes as the hospital undergoes a $30 million upgrade which will add six state-of-the-art operating theatres, a day surgery unit and a kitchen designed to deliver room-service style meals to patients.
The expansion builds on St Vincent's "long history of service in Toowoomba", says the hospital's CEO, and will "further improve the services it provides our community".
But the nurses' union would like some of the refurbishment spending redirected to staff.
"They're doing all this building up there but they're cutting staff to the bone," Mrs Andersen said.
Nurses' frustrations have been exacerbated by perceived inaction by hospital management, something that was also discussed at Tuesday's meeting.
"They love their job and they're prideful of the work they do," Mrs Andersen said.
"But they're getting hammered up there."
Mrs Andersen said there had been a significant increase in the number of nurses at St Vincent's who had contacted the union over the past month to voice concern.
"It's been brewing for a while, but then around (mid-July), all this blew up," she said.
"I'd got 11 workload forms over six months. And then in one week I got 14."
Ms McKeefry said "the hospital places great importance on staff communication and fostering a respectful working environment.
"We actively encourage staff to provide feedback and raise any concerns.
"In that spirit, the hospital is committed to working with staff and their representatives to settle any differences."
The QNMU said while some nurses had spoken about their desire to "walk off the job", negotiations with the hospital would continue.
The next round of meetings are planned for the coming week.
Rebecca Vonhoff has been a patient of St Vincent's Private Hospital. Her baby also was a patient of the Special Care Nursery.