Safe patient care is Cobar’s bottom line

Thursday 18th October, 2012

The provision of an on-call roster, at a cost of about $14,000 a year, will be sufficient to convince Cobar Hospital nurses that they can safely re-open all in-patient beds at the hospital, the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association (NSWNMA) said today.

Cobar Hospital nurses this week capped in-patient numbers at the hospital at five, after the Western NSW Local Health District again refused to address low nursing numbers at the facility. Two emergency admission beds are also available. Once these beds are full, patients may need to be admitted to other facilities.

The LHD has been staffing Cobar Hospital with 52 nursing hours per day. This provides the basic 4.8 hours per patient for an average of 10 in-patients, with four hours nursing work left for the emergency department. Cobar nurses have been arguing for more than 12 months that this is unsafe and a number of recent clinical incidents and near misses confirm their concerns.

Due to the size of Cobar and the potential problem with patient confidentiality, the details of these incidents cannot be described in detail.

NSWNMA general secretary, Brett Holmes, said nurses and patients should not have to put up with this level of risk. He said a simple and cost-effective on-call roster between 11.00am and 11.00pm each day, which allows for rapid staffing increases to deal with such situations, will help overcome the problem.

"When patient numbers unexpectedly increase, the nurses on duty should be able to get help immediately. They should not have to waste time on the phone hunting around for nurses who are available and willing to come in on their days off," Mr Holmes said.

"Based on the current award rates, we estimate that one on-call nurse, between 11.00am and 11.00pm each day, 365 days a year, will cost the Western NSW Local Health District and State Government just over $14,000 a year or about $40 a day. Surely safe patient care at Cobar is worth that much?

"The nurses and people of Cobar have every right to ask why the State Government is being so scrooge-like about such an important issue.

"As I have said throughout this campaign, patient safety at Cobar is about the capacity to respond quickly during peak periods. Time is of the essence in an emergency or during busy times. Treatment delays can lead to death or to conditions escalating to a dangerous level. That has come close to happening on at least one recent occasion and on other occasions prior to that. In rural communities like Cobar we should always err on the side of caution when it comes to nurse staffing.

"The real bottom line is found in safe patient care, not on the balance sheet. Rural hospitals like Cobar can only be safe if they are staffed ready to act in an emergency and are prepared, with the knowledge that anything can happen at any time.

"In this case achieving an acceptable level of preparedness will cost about $40 per day for an on-call roster," Mr Holmes said.

Cobar Hospital has 21 in-patient beds and an emergency department. It averages about 10 in-patients a day. As well as servicing the local agricultural sector, Cobar has a substantial mining industry. Both sectors have significant workplace injury risk for employees.

Contact details: Brett Holmes, Ph: 02 8595 1234