Photo: Nurses at the earlier strike held on February 15 this year.

More than 160 branches of the NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association (NSWNMA) agreed to the strike, the second in just six weeks, calling for pay rises and legislated, shift by shift, nurse to patient ratios, similar to those in ACT, Queensland and Victoria.

Specifically, the union is campaigning for one nurse to three patients in the emergency department and one nurse to four patients in hospital wards.

President of the NSWNMA Yass Branch Paul Haines said nurses were striking for better conditions after the government, NSW Premier and Health Minister failed to fix the staffing crisis occuring across the state.

Paul said the state government’s response to the NSWNMA requests has been very disappointing so far.

Union general secretary, Brett Holmes told the ABC nurses have overwhelmingly all voted in favour of taking some form of industrial action, with most of them voting for the 24-hour stoppage

“The nurses want to hear that the government has a plan for the future that guarantees them that, on every shift, there will be enough nurses and midwives to look after their patients in our health system.

“Without that guarantee, there can be no solution to this problem.”

Similar to last month’s walk-out, Thursday’s strike has not been sanctioned by the state’s Industrial Relations Commission.

“The Industrial Relations Commission has again acted for the Ministry of Health in placing orders and directions against the Nurses and Midwives Association and our members,” Mr Holmes said.

“Unfortunately, they can’t fix this problem. It’s a problem that can only be fixed by the NSW government.”

Staff from the Yass District Hospital will join the Goulburn rally at 10am on Thursday at Belmore Park before returning to town for a local rally at Coronation Park at 2pm, which will include marching down the street. Meanwhile, the Yass Branch President will head to the main rally in Sydney to highlight issues in regional and rural hospitals.

“We’re continuing on with the staffing crisis that has been ongoing for a long time and that has actually been highlighted with the recent onset of Covid,” Paul said.

“We are struggling to fill the shifts, we’re very short-staffed and as a result, we’re also unable to provide safe and effective care to patients that we serve in the Yass community.”

The second issue Yass nurses are facing is the difficulty of recruiting and retaining staff due to issues with education, support, mentorship and most concerningly an unsafe environment resulting from a lack of nursing staff.

Two years of the COVID-19 pandemic have made matters worse, and many nurses are either ready to leave or have already elected to work just an hour away in the ACT due to better pay and conditions, according to Paul.

“For example, if you go to the ACT the conditions are better, they actually have nurse-to-patient ratios.”

“The ACT has better conditions in terms of better mentorship, support, education, training,” he said. “Then all you have to do is travel 45 minutes down the road.”

“People don’t want to work in rural health anymore because it’s just too dangerous.”

Paul said the union is also pushing for a commitment to a fair pay rise for nurses after pay freezes in recent years. In 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic, the Berejiklian Government paused the annual 2.5 per cent annual pay rise to all public sector workers, instead opting for a 0.3 per cent alternative.

The second year of the pandemic saw this rise to 1.5 per cent while Dominic Perrottet was the state Treasurer.

NSWNMA are now seeking a fair pay rise above 2.5 per cent for recognition of nurses and midwives’ workloads during the pandemic and to compensate for their wage freeze in 2020. A COVID-19 allowance would be additional recognition but does not replace other demands.

Paul said they need the community behind them if they are going to see their demands met.

“We really need to have the community behind us and really making a noise to the local members of parliament,” he said. “Telling them what they want, what they need, and also telling our local MPs that this is a really important resource for the community.”

During Yass Valley Council’s Ordinary Council Meeting on March 24, Mayor Allan McGrath spoke about the reduced provisions of services at Yass Hospital.

The mayor and Council recommended the action of raising the issue with Local Member for Goulburn Wendy Tuckerman be endorsed.

“I have recently been advised that some of the services provided at the Yass Hospital have been substantially reduced and Councillors would be aware of recent industrial action statewide by the NSW Nurses and Midwives association over staffing levels,” Allan said in the Mayoral Minute.

The mayor also referenced the recent experiences of Cr Kim Turner and Cayla Pothan when they presented at the Yass Hospital for treatment. Kim then had to travel to Goulburn for stitches and Cayla travelled to Calvary Hospital to obtain an XRay on her fractured arm because the Yass Hospital X-Ray was booked out.

X-Ray services have now been reduced and are only available between 9am and 3pm.

“By New South Wales Health Policy, we’re mandated to have a 24-hour radiographer and we haven’t had one for a while now,” Paul said.

This, Allan said, is in spite of the fact that emergency presentations at the Hospital far exceed the average for this grouping of Hospitals.

“Insufficient staffing, security, and no doctor on site, appear to be regular issues of concern, together with a seeming lack of planning for the expansion of hospital services in Yass Valley.”

General Manager Chris Berry has contacted Wendy Tuckerman MP for an appointment to discuss these matters which are of real concern to our growing community the report read.

The Mayor said he spoke to the MP last Wednesday when she indicated she was aware of some of the concerns and would be raising them with Bronnie Taylor, the Minister for Regional Health on Wednesday, March 30. The General Manager and Mayor will be talking to Mrs Tuckerman in April.

“We’re not going to tolerate any further downgrading of services and we need them to actually take the bull by the horns and get services back up to scratch running a safe and effective service,” the NSWNMA Yass Branch President said.

This is for the protection of the community,” Paul said. “The community deserve a good hospital within the rights we’ve requested.”

By Brianna O’Rourke