The Yass Hospital ward has reopened to patients after being temporarily closed the past few weeks due to ongoing staff shortages.

Patients requiring admission to the Yass Hospital had to be transferred to nearby hospitals but the emergency department remained open.

Last week a spokesperson for the SNSWLHD said, “Due to current challenges presented by the Omicron variant and SNSWLHD staff isolating, patients requiring admission to the Yass hospital will be transferred to either Goulburn Base Hospital or Canberra Hospital”.

According to the LHD this was a temporary arrangement during the Omicron outbreak, which they planned to lift once staff were out of isolation.

But President of the Yass branch of the NSW Nurses & Midwives Association Paul Haines said the hospital had been struggling for staff for a long time, but it has become worse in the last few years.

“Let’s face it, the coronavirus isn’t a new thing,” Paul said. “Nothing really has been done in the meantime to shore up what we’ve been doing.”

Paul Haines

“Essentially because we had no staff, they just had to shut the ward,” he said. “I’m sure this story has been played out across the district in many different hospitals.”

“When you come to a hospital, I think you have an expectation of a minimum service and we could not provide that minimum service at that point.”

Associate Professor Judith Anderson from Charles Sturt University recently completed a study into a global shortage of nurses.

She told the ABC that there were insufficient numbers of people choosing to become nurses and a high number of people exiting the profession.

“We need to keep the nurses that we’ve got; we really need to make sure that we’re supporting them with other staff if that’s what’s required,” she said.

Last June the union closed several beds at the Yass Hospital ward due to the withdrawal of after-hours security cover between 6pm and 6am and the need for an improved nurse to patient ratio with the latter being campaigned for across the state.

Paul said in his view, many staff have left the hospital as a result of feeling unsafe.

“I don’t know where the government is getting this idea that the health services are coping because it’s not,” he said. “It’s crippled, it’s crumbling.”

There’s a similar sentiment across the state as last month senior nursing staff across the neighbouring Western New South Wales Local Health District (WNSWLHD) walked off the job in protest of chronic staffing shortages affecting the health care sector.

Nursing staff from 13 different health centres in the WNSWLHD stopped work for two hours.

Brett Holmes, NSW Nurse & Midwives Association General Secretary said the levels of desperation and despair expressed by the Health Service Managers (HSM) and senior nursing staff was profound and warranted ur- gent action by the NSW government.

“These HSM and senior nurse managers have very real fears that patients’ lives are at risk and their own professional registrations are being put in jeopardy, given the volume of unfilled shifts.”

“For too long, this government has chosen to ignore the growing staffing issues in small community hospitals and Multi-Purpose Service (MPSs,) which has led to the significant crisis we’re now facing.”

The union has reiterated calls for the NSW government to introduce state-wide nurse-to-patient ratios on every shift.

This includes a minimum of at least three nurses in every rural and remote facility, two of whom must be registered nurses with first-line emergency care qualifications.

Mandated ratios would ensure staffing was adequately linked to the number of patients in a ward or unit, rather than just to the number of beds typically open.

By Brianna O’Rourke