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Not enough nurses

Tuesday, 2nd February, 2010

The local hospital said yesterday that it was not at crisis point despite confirming that it doesn't have enough nurses or doctors.

The hospital won't put a figure on it, but the Greater Western Area Health Service said it had a shortage of nurses in Broken Hill and was continually using costly locums to fill doctors' positions. GWAHS is running the hospital by using nurse managers as clinicians, moving staff around and relying on locums.

While the GWAHS would not confirm the number of nurses it needed to get the hospital a full complement of nursing staff, it is believed to be between 15 and 30. The local manager, Rod Wyber-Hughes, said nurse shortages fluctuated which was why he could not put a number on it. Mr Wyber-Hughes blamed Broken Hill's remoteness for the shortages. "There is a shortage of nurses," he said. "It fluctuates quite a bit for the month.

"It's the nature of where we live, the location, the isolation." Mr Wyber-Hughes said trained nurses, like midwives and intensive care nurses, were hard to find. "We need good, capable generalists who can perform a range of tasks." Mr Wyber-Hughes said the hospital was having to shift resources to manage the staff shortage. "The care we are providing is high quality," he said.

"The duty nurse manager will assess in advance what their workforce is and relocate their resources." He said where a staff member was busy for half a day, for example at a specialist clinic, they were then redeployed as necessary. "We flex up people to cope with an increasing demand." Mr Wyber-Hughes said the hospital was unable to meet the required number of staff on shifts.

"We are always struggling to maintain an agreed number," he said. "Nurse unit managers are doing clinical work. "There are the times that we do have pressure on the system." He said patient safety was not being compromised because resources were moved around "because you always (delegate) strategically to your sickest and most needy patients."

He also said that finding permanent doctors was a "constant battle". "In terms of our medical workforce it is also difficult. "We recently had an obstetrics gynaecology (doctor) leave. That was filled with a locum. It's a constant battle for us." Mr Wyber-Hughes said the hospital was looking for a permanent surgeon, obstetrics/gynaecologist and an anaesthetist.

"We are providing (these services) at great financial pressure."

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