Complaints to the nurses union about short-staffing have been increasing over the last few weeks, peaking when the Canberra Hospital went to a partial ambulance bypass for the second time in a month on Monday (14 December).
Members of the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) have been trying to take on extra shifts and overtime to help combat chronic understaffing on wards, but are being overruled by people higher up the chain, ANMF ACT Branch Secretary Matthew Daniel said.
“Our members are beside themselves,” he told Region Media.
“They are having to work short-staffed in addition to the pressure of taking patients from the emergency department.
“The ED is one pressure point but there can be a tendency to try to get them out of ED – which is appropriate – but you are putting them on wards that are already stretched, understaffed and where there may not be a physical bed to put them in.”
Patients are discharged early where appropriate to increase capacity within the hospital during bypasses, but clearing people from the ED can cause bottlenecks and compounds the pressure on wards.
This means nurses in busy wards that are a nurse or two down have to double their workloads, Mr Daniel said.
“What our members are reporting are things like miscare and concerns around the appropriate accommodation of patients in the right clinical areas where they can be properly cared for,” he said.
“There is always the mantra around patient-centred care and this is certainly not it.”
Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said patient safety is the number one priority for Canberra Health Services.
“There are plans and processes in place to respond appropriately and safely to increased capacity at the hospital, with the safety and wellbeing of patients and staff at the centre of every decision made,” she said.
While this week’s bypass was a result of more mental health presentations to the ED, and the one in November – which set an ED admissions record – was partially attributed to respiratory presentations, ACT Health says there are no obvious reasons for the spike.
Mr Daniel says claims that ACT Health does not know what the cause of the spikes is concerning.
“If you do not know why people are presenting to hospital that is a real problem,” he said.
“COVID has seen an increase in people needing mental health support, that is one area, but they should have a handle on what sorts of presentations they are seeing in the ED.
“These sorts of things are nothing new, these spikes come and go and when they talk about record presentations, there is clearly an upwards tick in demand for health services and they know this.”
ACT Health has been contacted for comment.