SIGNIFICANT safety concerns have been raised for Grafton's maternity unit patients due to shortages in staffing and experience.
An "in-house" brief by the Northern NSW Local Health District, which was recently delivered to The Daily Examiner office, outlined Grafton's long-term issue with the recruitment of midwives and "the risk of unsafe staffing numbers and skill".
The brief said that despite best efforts, the current roster had several shifts that could not be filled, and "over the next few days there is only a newly graduated midwife and a student midwife on some shifts. There are some night shifts with no available staff."
Also attached was an anonymous letter which alleged the unit could not continue to function as is, and was leaving current staff overworked and concerned about threats of closure.
NSW Nurses and Midwives Association assistant secretary Judith Kiejda said she was aware staff at the hospital had voiced significant safety concerns about the skill mix of employees.
She said one of the main problems with staffing in rural and regional areas, not specific to Grafton, was that there were a number of direct entry midwives starting work in hospitals who were not registered nurses and therefore not transferable to other areas of the hospital if needed.
"Basically when they bring those extra people on to the ward what happens is that you are asking people who are not trained to be delivering the care," she said. "A lot of management think it's one and the same but actually it isn't, so we're saying to midwives if they won't give you staff to meet the demand you have to reduce the demand."
Ms Kiejda said there was a formula, called Birth Rate Plus, which outlined the staffing level units needed to run at an optimal level.
"Our members know what care they're supposed to be giving, and when they can't give that because of staffing shortages they have a legal requirement to advocate for patients in their care."
Northern NSW Local Health District's executive director Lynne Weir acknowledged there had been recent challenges in recruiting but said there were no plans to close or reduce services at the women's care unit.
"In fact, this financial year there have been 430 babies born at Grafton Base Hospital," she said.
In response to the recruiting problems, Ms Weir said the Richmond Clarence Health Service Group had introduced a streaming model of care across the Lismore and Grafton women's care units that enables staff to work across both sites.
"The establishment of a casual midwifery staffing pool across Lismore Base Hospital and Grafton Base Hospital is addressing this issue," she said.
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