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Campaign to fight shortage in RNs

A major shortage of nurses in one of NSW's largest residential centres for people with disabilities is driving a campaign that hopes to get 10,000 signatures.

Stockton Centre has about 122 full-time registered nurses positions, with only 60 filled with permanent registered nurses, said Lisa Kremmer, manager of the organising team of NSW Nurses and Midwives' Association. The nursing workforce, she said, is also supplemented by enrolled nurses and assistants in nursing.

Casual and agency nurses help to fill in the gaps, but sometimes permanent nurses have to work overtime and with double workload to fill in gaps at the site.

One reason for the shortage, is that Ageing, Disability and Home Care (ADHC) is "developing and redeveloping the large residential centres, moving clients into more community based accommodation," said Kremmer.

Because of this, group homes employ less nurses, she said, "but we have consistently argued that it doesn't matter where a client resides -if they have healthcare needs that require RN levels of care, then that must be provided."

Kremmer said, because of fewer education courses specifically designed for a career in the disability sector, many nurses don't have an opportunity to learn about disability nursing.

Uncertainty about future employment and job security also count as reasons for the lack of RNs.

She also pointed to the decreasing pay rates in the public sector. "Pay parity was achieved in 2010, with the last pay rise of the ADHC Nurses Award meeting the public health system rates of pay," said Kremmer.

Another reason for the fall in numbers, said Kremmer, is the government's proposal to remove disability nurses' benefits including annual leave load and family/community service leave.

Kremmer said all these resulted in the crisis in nursing across ADHC. She added that this shortage means less supervision for clients and assistants in nursing.

"Clients miss out on the level of supervision, nursing care and clinical assessment that RNs provide. The RNs also have to supervise a larger number of unregulated workers," she said.

Kremmer said that "care has been reduced to a series of tasks" as the few nurses have to divide their time and attention among the many who need their care.

"Short cuts are used and mistakes are made. It is important to note that errors and incidents are not the fault of the individual nurses - it is only through the dedication and hard work of the nurses that there have not been serious adverse incidents."

"We know that the nurses do everything they can to care for their clients, but there is only so much that they can do with current staffing levels. People with disability deserve better, and so do disability nurses," she said.

Kremmer said that 10,000 signatures would trigger a parliamentary debate, which is an important step in the campaign. Fact sheets and online petition forms can be found at www.nswnurses.asn.au. The forms can be printed out to collect signatures and can be mailed to the association.

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