Nurses and midwives protest against appalling conditions at Westmead Hospital

Members of the New South Wales Nurses and Midwives’ Association at Westmead Hospital protested last Wednesday to demand that the Perrottet government address the crisis in the state’s hospitals.

Nurses and midwives demonstrated outside the hospital during their lunch break, holding signs demanding that the premier spend a day in the shoes of hospital staff, who are overworked and, like the healthcare system, at breaking point.

“The mood is mostly that of exhaustion”, Skip Blofield, the union’s Westmead branch secretary and organiser of the action, told Red Flag. “Because nurses are being deployed out of their specialties just to try to fill out the numbers on the wards, there’s an insane amount of people out of their depth.

“People are working overtime on the regular, on some wards taking seven, eight or nine patients at once. ICU must be, by a matter of clinical necessity, one nurse to one patient, but even that cannot be guaranteed. Theatre staff, thanks to lack of numbers on nights, have been working up to twenty hours.”

Despite the horrific conditions, the NSW government has refused to enact even basic measures to stem the attrition of healthcare staff, such as the creation of a COVID allowance to compensate nurses for working in dangerous conditions. Instead, it has sent COVID-positive staff to work in the wards and cancelled the leave of those who haven’t had a break since the pandemic began.

Midway through last year, nurses and midwives walked off the job to fight against the public sector pay freeze and to demand safe nurse-to-patient ratios at dozens of hospitals across the state, including at large metropolitan hospitals such as Royal Prince Alfred, Liverpool and Westmead.

The wave of strikes was cut short by the Delta outbreak, and the crisis in the hospitals has become only more acute.

“The Association should take advantage of the disenfranchisement and frustration of its membership and coordinate a wider action”, Blofield said. “There is an angry membership, and they elected their leaders, they should expect to see leadership from them and leadership in these conditions is bold and unambiguous calls to action.”

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