The Guardian October 6, 1999


Nursing workload time-bomb

A survey has found that the Victorian community is being spared the full 
effects of the state's critical nursing shortage because nurses are 
contributing up to 450 equivalent full-time jobs by working unpaid overtime 
and working through their meal breaks.

The survey, by the Australian Centre for Industrial Relations Research and 
Training, was commissioned by the Victorian Branch of the Australian 
Nursing Federation (ANF).

More than 2,000 nurses in public and private acute hospitals, nursing homes 
and psychiatric facilities who were surveyed revealed that the Victorian 
health system relies on nurses working hours of unpaid overtime to 
compensate for the nursing shortage.

The majority of nurses work overtime, with 70 per cent of those that do 
being compelled to do so. Only 19 per cent are always paid for their 
overtime, 32 per cent are never paid and 80 per cent have given up applying 
to be paid.

ANF Branch Secretary, Belinda Morieson, said the survey results should 
alarm the community. "The ANF has been warning the Government of the 
critical nursing shortage and we have been imploring them to act since 
February, but they have refused to do so.

"Instead they are relying on the goodwill of nurses to make up for the 
nursing vacancies by working hours of unpaid overtime."

The community is watching as beds are closed and services are reduced. The 
ANF says that the situation will only get worse.

Nurses are saying to the Government: "You have taken us for granted for 
long enough  fix it."

The survey also shows that nurses are dissatisfied with the impact their 
working lives is having on their family and social lives and are angry at 
the way their professionalism is being compromised.

"They are sick and tired of working double shifts and working with 
inadequate nurse-to-patient ratios and an inadequate skill mix", said Ms 
Morieson.

"They want staffing levels addressed immediately, and they make it very 
clear that this cannot be done by filling the gaps with agency staff.

"The Government has to act immediately to address this problem. It has to 
get serious about the shortage of nurses and put the resources into 
recruiting and retaining the nurses the community needs.

"It has to set about making the public health system a place where nurses 
can do what they're trained to do  provide the highest quality nursing 
care to the Victorian community. If it delays any longer, the community is 
really going to pay the price."

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