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Hospital beds to stay open

Tuesday, 11th January, 2011

Leanne Barber Leanne Barber

By Gina Wilson

While it’s not likely to affect us locally, a total of 344 beds are now closed in hospitals in the old Greater Western Area Health Service as a battle for conditions between nurses and the State Government enters its second week.

The industrial action began months ago but a plan by the NSW Nurses Association (NSWNA) to begin shutting beds if negotiationd between it and the government did not occur came into operation last week.

Yesterday saw the closure of 344 beds in 46 hospitals with the NSWNA vowing to close more.

No beds in the Far West Health Network, which includes Broken Hill, were expected to close under the industrial campaign, which is using safety as its mantle for implementing a nurse to patient ratio of one to four.

That ratio is used in Victoria’s public hospitals. The NSWNU’s local president Leanne Barber said while nurses in the FWHN supported the campaign “100 per cent” the critical shortage of beds here made participating in the bed closures impossible.

“Our hospital is full. We are very, very busy,” Mrs Barber said yesterday. “We’d like to take part but at the moment it’s just not possible.

“It would be a catastrophe but it doesn’t mean we don’t support it. We support our nurses 100 per cent.” Mrs Barber said the city’s isolation also made it impossible for local nurses to participate in the “1 nurse: 4 patients - The way to safe patient care” campaign.

She said if a patient presented at a hospital in Sydney, for example, and found beds closed, they could go to another hospital nearby.

This is not the case in the Far West. “There’s always somewhere for them to go,” Mrs Barber said.

“But in Broken Hill we’ve only got this one hospital that caters for everyone. “We are an exception to the rule (because) we are very isolated.

“We need to be able to care for our people.” The NSWNA said bed closures were not affecting emergency or time critical services, including maternity, paediatric or oncology wards.

It said the nurse to patient ratio would result in the biggest overhaul of the State’s public hospitals and health care system in decades.

So far the NSW Government has refused to negotiate with the nurses saying discussions will not happen while industrial action was being carried out.

But Mrs Barber said as more beds closed that attitude would not help the situation. “I fully support it,” she said. “I do hope they go back to the table and listen to the nurses.”

Beds in other FWHN hospitals, including Menindee, Tibooburra, Wilcannia, Ivanhoe, Balrandald and Wentworth, are also not affected. 

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