BATHURST nurses and midwives stepped up their industrial action as they walked off the job for 24 hours on Thursday morning.
NSW Health, however, described the strike - part of statewide action by the NSW Nurses and Midwives' Association - as "in defiance of orders from the NSW Industrial Relations Commission" and defended its current staffing system, which is at the heart of the dispute.
Kathi Hamilton, president of the Bathurst branch of the NSW Nurses and Midwives' Association, emphasised that the community's support was needed if Bathurst staff were to win their fight.
She said local members of the association had gone out on strike for eight hours at a time twice already this year, but this latest action would be for 24 hours - from 7.30am on Thursday (September 1) to the conclusion of night shift at 7.30am on Friday (September 2).
"We're just not getting anywhere with the government," she said. "We've actually stepped it up a bit."
The Bathurst strike, which included a rally out the front of the heritage section of the hospital on Thursday morning, is part of the union's fight for mandated nurse-to-patient ratios.
"In the whole of NSW, it [staffing] is just not good enough," Ms Hamilton said.
"We're finding there's a lot of junior staff being put into acute settings well before they're ready for it and they're finding it very frightening.
"And they're doing the best they can possibly do.
"We've got educators and NUMs [nurse unit managers] going on the floor to cover shortages.
"We have staff that are getting regularly asked to do double shifts and the fatigue is getting bigger and we're having lots of nurses that are actually saying I've had enough and leaving the profession.
"And that includes midwives."
Ms Hamilton said a redeveloped Bathurst Hospital - as announced by the NSW Government in June - would need the right resources to be of true benefit to the community.
"We're getting a beautiful $200 million extension here for the hospital, but we need [Member for Bathurst and Deputy Premier] Paul Toole to know that we need to staff this safely and we also need to have enough staff to do it," she said.
"We need the community to talk to our local member and to support us."
IN OTHER NEWS AROUND BATHURST:
In terms of nurse-to-patient ratios, the NSW Nurses and Midwives' Association is calling for "one in three in ED, one in four on the ward".
Ms Hamilton said there were staff from all wards that were taking part in the industrial action, including Daffodil Cottage.
Garry Sewell, who was one of the community members who attended the nurses' rally on Thursday morning, said he had witnessed firsthand the problems with staffing at the hospital.
"I was in ER last year and I just saw how stressed and overworked the nurses were," he said.
"I can't complain about the treatment I received from them, but seeing how stressed they were, it's just not fair on them."
In defiance of the commission
A NSW Health spokesperson said the industrial action by the NSW Nurses and Midwives' Association (NSWNMA) was in defiance of orders from the NSW Industrial Relations Commission (IRC).
"On Thursday, August 25, 2022, the IRC ordered the NSWNMA and its members to cease organising and refrain from taking industrial action today, Thursday, September 1," the spokesperson said.
"It also ordered that the Association must not authorise or encourage members of the union to organise or take industrial action.
"NSW Health recognises and is deeply thankful for the outstanding commitment and tireless efforts of our healthcare workers throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
"The NSW Government and NSW Health have engaged in extensive and ongoing discussions with the NSWNMA.
"On August 17, 2022, the IRC made a new award covering Nurses and Midwives at NSW Health. The award facilitated a 3 per cent increase to wages and conditions, comprising of a 2.53 per cent wage increase and a 0.5 per cent superannuation increase.
"These increases are in addition to the one-off $3000 thank you payment announced in June 2022 in recognition of the work of health workers during the pandemic."
The NSW Health spokesperson said safe and effective staffing "involves more than just numbers of staff, it is about making sure there is the right number of staff in the right place at the right time".
"The current 'nursing hours per patient day' system used under the Nurses Award in NSW Health is a far more flexible ratio which enables hospitals to increase staffing, where needed, to ensure safe and effective care," the spokesperson said.
"The flexible ratio system used in NSW Health is a multifaceted approach and considers the numbers of patients, their complexity, acuity and care needs whilst allowing for the professional judgement of nurses and managers to adjust staffing levels to reflect the changing care needs of patients.
"This contrasts with the rigid ratio framework of the NSW Nurses and Midwives' Association which is based solely on the number of patients per shift.
"All Local Health Districts and NSW Ambulance have plans in place to seek to minimise disruption or delays to patients caused by today's industrial action and to ensure people in need of emergency care continue to receive it.
"NSW Health will continue to work to mitigate potential impacts on patients throughout the day, however some disruption and delays are expected, particularly as 970 healthcare workers were in isolation as of Tuesday, August 30, 2022 either due to positive COVID-19 status, exposure to COVID-19, and/or whilst awaiting a negative result.
"If people are not experiencing a medical emergency NSW Health urges them to please keep our emergency departments and ambulances for emergencies and seek out alternatives like a GP, a pharmacist, or a registered nurse available 24 hours a day at HealthDirect on 1800 022 222.
"We thank all our patients and their families for their patience and understanding during this challenging time.
"The NSW Government is investing a record $33 billion in health as part of the 2022-23 NSW Budget, including almost $900 million for the ongoing COVID-19 response.
"The NSW Government also announced the largest workforce boost in the nation's history in the 2022-23 Budget with a $4.5 billion investment over four years to recruit 10,148 full-time equivalent (FTE) staff to hospitals and health services across NSW."