Blacktown Hospital is so critically underfunded that entire wards are remaining closed due to the lack of staff, and staff across the state have claimed that it’s not the only NSW hospital facing such a desperate shortage.
Very few NSW voters would be shocked to hear that the staffing levels in hospitals are inadequate, but the reality of the situation would suggest that NSW Health is on the brink of collapse.
Going into the election, both parties are making general promises around staff and nurses, with the Liberals promising 5000 nurses over the next 4 years, and Labor heading in the direction of guaranteeing some nurse-to-patient ratios.
The problem is, it’s 3 whole months until the end of June, and hospitals have completely run out of the money allocated to their staffing budgets for the 2018/19 financial year.
This means staff calling in sick are not replaced, instead those already working are forced to work overtime or double shifts, and as a result the safety of nurses and patients is compromised.
What’s more, at Blacktown Hospital alone, staff budgets have been cut by 25% over forward growth, while the projected patient flow predicts a 200% surge over the same period.
This is particularly important, because the Department of Health does not want these numbers to be made public.
Newly-built speciality wards, designed for respiratory care, dementia, and paediatrics are either being kept closed, or are designated for use as patient overflow – despite the fact that some are used for their intended purpose.
This means that these wards, on paper, do not need specialists or full staffing levels, even though they have patients requiring this high-level of care.
Staff are spread thin caring for patients with high care needs, meaning patients are left in the lurch and lives are endangered, all so the hospital can save some money.
State funded specialist roles have been left vacant for months, even years, at a time to facilitate a better budget result for the hospital. Patients have been going without critical care in this time as the specially trained medical staff required for their treatment do not exist within the hospital.
Some speciality staff have been forced to take on multiple roles because the hospital refuses to replace them or fill vacancies.
There have also been claims from those working within the hospital of incidents where staff and patient safety was jeopardised as a result of the understaffing in speciality wards. Nursing staff claimed that there were days they were too scared to go to work because of the genuine fear they had for their lives.
The reports of these incidents are not allowed to be made public.
Over the last 6 years, the Liberal government under Barry O’Farrell, Mike Baird, and Gladys Berejiklian have made the expansion of Blacktown Hospital a central policy project – spending billions of dollars on the upgrades.
They have capitalised on every opportunity they have, holding press conferences and photo opportunities at the hospital as each stage of the upgrade is completed.
At no point have they ever had to discuss the fact that their announced funding for infrastructure upgrades does not include the necessary funding for staff.
In June last year the Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, and her Treasurer, Dominic Perrottet, announced a $3.9 billion surplus in the NSW budget, which was upgraded to $4.2 billion later in the year.
Two months after this surplus was announced, a nurse was stabbed by a patient inside the hospital, in an incident that can be directly attributed to the lack of staff in the ward.
The hospital has not even begun the hiring process for the newly built and expanded speciality wards, despite the fact that Stage 2 of the expansion project is due for completion later this year. According to some staff members from Mount Druitt Hospital, there is presently no plan to open the paediatric ward at Blacktown – even though announcement of the ward formed a key part of Health Minister Brad Hazzard’s visit to the hospital last year.
The voters of NSW need to know the truth about where their tax dollars are going. Building new hospitals and expanding existing hospital infrastructure looks great on paper and in the media, but without staff, people will die.
Hiring staff to ensure the hospital is run effectively, with patient focused care front and centre, may not be sexy enough to drag the Daily Telegraph out for a write up, but it is what is required for citizens to benefit from the services they are paying for.
The staff at Blacktown Hospital are risking their lives every day, and they carry the guilt of any patient for whom they are unable to provide adequate care. Due to the lack of support they have experienced from NSW Health and the State Government, staff have even reported that they are developing symptoms of PTSD.
Speaking out means risking their jobs, the doctors, nurses, and Allied Health workers who chose to come forward for this article would only speak on condition of anonymity.
The NSW Government needs to address this critical shortage before the election. Neither the Liberal Party nor the Labor Party are making announcements that give any indication that they are aware of the crisis faced by NSW public hospitals.
A rudimentary search on social media highlights the growing discontent around the need for nurses and speciality staff on the floor, with thousands of comments discussing long wait times and nurses being run off their feet. It all seems to point to a burgeoning crisis in health.
Voters have less than 2 days to demand more.
Cover image via wslhd.health.nsw.gov.au