RUN OFF THEIR FEET: Striking nurses Paul Fletcher and Carol Henley outside yesterday’s rally. Photo: Lachlan Thompson
RUN OFF THEIR FEET: Striking nurses Paul Fletcher and Carol Henley outside yesterday’s rally. Photo: Lachlan Thompson

Hospitals are ‘dangerous’

EMERGENCY ward nurse Paul Fletcher has worked at Grafton Base Hospital for 33 years and yesterday was just the third time he had gone on strike.

The story was the same for community nurse Carol Hanley.

What drove Mr Fletcher to take what is literally once-in-a-decade action was, he felt the nurse-to-patient ratios in his hospital were endangering the people he looked after.

The decision to stop caring for his patients was not one he took lightly.

"There's a strong reluctance among nurses to go on strike," he said. "Even today, it was just a training day for me and some of the nurses there were unsure if they could walk away."

Mr Fletcher said the conditions he and his colleagues were under were dangerous for nurses and patients alike.

"It's bad enough they're endangering our health but now they're endangering the public's health," he said.

Mr Fletcher described an environment where nurses were literally run off their feet, working very long shifts without finding time to stop for meal breaks.

In terms of the current system where a patient in Grafton Base Hospital gets five hours of nursing care a day, compared to five-and-a-half hours of patient care a day in Lismore and six in Sydney, Mr Fletcher said it should be equal in all hospitals.

"People are pretty much the same everywhere, they have the same illnesses and accidents," he said.

He would know; as a nurse in the emergency ward at Grafton Base he is on the front line.

He said in many cases the condition of his patients was very serious. "And if you're at a disadvantage staffing wise then the patient is at a disadvantage," Mr Fletcher said.

On top of poor patient-to- nurse ratios, Mr Fletcher said the job itself had become more technical, more bureaucratic and more accountable. The introduction of computerised record- keeping system meant nurses spent more time entering data than ever before.

Ms Hanley has spent the past 20 years working as a community nurse.

Her role means she visits patients in their homes.

Community nurses are responsible for providing palliative care and patient support once people are discharged from hospital.

Like Mr Fletcher she had only been on strike three times in her career.

"We go into the hospital regularly and we can see the stress on the staff," she said.

"They're busy and they're over run and you can feel it when you walk in."

Ratios aside, the Nurses and Midwives' Association of which Ms Hanley and Mr Fletcher are a part, is also asking the State Government to give them a pay increase.

The government's latest offer is 2.5%, which is less than inflation.

"It's just another insult really," Mr Fletcher said.

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