‘Localise, not centralise’ our health

Member for Murray Helen Dalton at a rally in Sydney to support hospitals in her electorate. Mrs Dalton has been especially vocal about the state of the Griffith Hospital maternity unit, after fears it would close.

NSW Member for Murray Helen Dalton has backed a call for the state’s nurses to be paid higher wages to encourage them back into the sector and reduce pressures on the health system.

She said it is particularly important following the reduction of emergency department services at the Jerilderie Multi Purpose Service, along with two other health services at Cootamundra and Batlow, due to staff shortages.

While all three are located outside the Murray electorate, Jerilderie shares a border with Murray.

The administrating service of those facilities - the Murrumbidgee Local Health District - has advised those in need of emergency care to present to Finley Hospital between those hours, or phone 000.

With the Jerilderie service closed between 10pm and 7am due to staffing shortages, Mrs Dalton is concerned sick people in Jerilderie will be put off from taking the 35km trip to Finley.

“I’m concerned that they won’t go to the emergency unless they’re very sick - those types of presentations should be valued,” she said.

“Every second, every minute counts, it’s the difference between life and death.”

MLHD said the workforce shortage was due to a variety of factors, including a lack of nurses in the regional district, exposure to COVID-19, and leave requirements or staff exhaustion.

“In addition to these shortages, further pressures to staffing are now occurring due to furloughed staff and unplanned leave caused by rising levels of COVID-19 transmission in the community.”

MLHD says the reduced operations will offer reprieve to remaining staff.

“MLHD will continue to work closely with New South Wales Ambulance to maintain 24/7 access to emergency care and facilitate rapid transfers to the closest specialist care centre when required,” a statement released on April 4 said.

A local NSW Nurses and Midwives Association member, who works at a local medical service, has said more than 5000 qualified nurses have left the NSW health sector because they are “exhausted”.

Mrs Dalton said the onus lies on the NSW Government to ensure wages and working conditions are meeting staff expectations, including answering the call from the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association for nurse to patient ratios and wage increases.

“The Coalition is in shambles - the wheels are falling off,” Mrs Dalton said.

“Why don’t they just listen and pay people properly? They keep relying on good will and it’s running out.”

NSW Deputy Premier Paul Toole, who is also Minister for Regional NSW, was in the Southern Riverina this month and said he “would love to pay everyone more”, but argued the pay increase asked for was not fiscally viable.

“All the nurses have done an extraordinary job – so have teachers, doctors and freight operators, the retail sector have done an incredible job in this time.

“We’ve been looking at it in a broader context without looking at one union alone, and that’s why we’ll have more to say in this space in the near future.”

Batlow, another hospital affected, has seen patients redirected to Tumut between 10pm and 7am since April 11.

A NSWNMA member at Tumut, Niamh Webb, believed Batlow nurses would welcome the reprieve on shift hours, however remained concerned that smaller regional health services would continue to struggle with staff retention.

“My understanding is there have been a lot of changes in positions, or nurses moving to different roles at other facilities,” Ms Webb said.

“My understanding is that they were looking to work at larger facilities, which offered better working conditions.”

Mrs Dalton said outsourcing the issue to larger medical facilities will only “compound the problem” long term.

“People will go to Wagga, which is already overloaded. Plus, people have little tolerance for transfers.

“It just means more pressure on Wagga and other areas. Let’s localise, not centralise.”

She added the “continued underpayment and neglect of staff” is evidence of a system in decline.

The changes are subject to a six-weekly review.

MLHD is expected to issue updated guidance on opening hours by Monday, June 6.

Cootamundra Hospital has redirected 50 ‘non-essential’ elective surgical patients to adjacent services.

Among the list of the union’s demands — which includes a pay rise of at least 2.5 per cent — none is more important than the introduction of maximum nurse to patient ratios.

Similar ratios have been a staple of hospitals in both Victoria and Queensland since 2015.

Both states require nurses to care for no more than four patients per shift.

Last year researchers found that Queensland’s policy had reduced both death and readmissions by seven per cent.