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Data reinforces need for staffing ratios in Hunter hospitals


Local politicians and unions have been pleading for nurse-to-patient ratios throughout hospitals in the Hunter New England Local Health District (HNELHD) for some time.

And, new data from the Bureau of Health Information (BHI) might add further weight to their cause.

According to the latest report, in excess of 790,300 people attended emergency departments (ED) during October to December last year, up 13,758 from the same quarter in 2019.

The rise at Kurri Kurri Hospital was 26.3%, while wait times inside the ED also suffered at the new Maitland Hospital, which only opened its doors just over 12 months ago.

At least 19.4% of patients – or nearly one-in-five – left the $470 million facility without completing treatment, it was revealed late last year.

The BHI figures highlight the fact that more people sought emergency treatment in public hospitals towards the end of 2022 than prior to the pandemic, too.

NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association (NSWNMA) general secretary Shaye Candish said the need was evident for a reliable and enforceable nurse-to-patient ratios system to better manage demand on the hospital system.

“The NSW Government’s complete lack of minimum ED staffing is not sustainable,” he stated.

“Interventions are required to ensure patients are treated promptly.

“Having a ratio of one nurse to every three treatment spaces in our EDs would both assist them and staff.

“The BHI data shows almost 68,000 ED patients left without, or before, completing treatment during October to December, while one-in-10 who were treated and admitted still spent almost 20 hours waiting in the ED over the same quarter.

“To improve these figures, urgent investment is needed in our skilled nursing workforce, which has suffered widespread burnout and fatigue.”

NSWNMA assistant general secretary Michael Whaites said the pressure on EDs was apparent across major metropolitan hospitals but also felt in regional settings.

“John Hunter Hospital continues to be one of the busiest sites in the state, while Tweed Hospital in the north had a 13.9% jump in ED attendances for October to December compared to the same quarter the previous year,” he added.

“There was also a rise in ED patients for the quarter at Broken Hill Hospital (18%), Kurri Kurri (26.3%), Young (30.3%) and Moruya (30.3%) compared to 2021 levels.

“While wait times inside EDs suffered at Maitland, Blacktown and Westmead hospitals.

“We’re calling on the Dominic Perrottet government to acknowledge its own hospital data.

“This shows how much nurses and midwives are battling on, juggling workloads and feeling unsupported.

“Shift-by-shift ratios are a safe, evidence-based solution to these workforce pressures.”

In the lead up to the NSW Election on 25 March, NSWNMA members are urging candidates from all political persuasions to support minimum and enforceable nurse-to-patient ratios, improved maternity staffing and fair pay.

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