THE familiar "What do we want? When do we want it?" cry rang out on the grounds of the Naracoorte Hospital on Tuesday as nurses rallied to speak out against unsafe staffing levels at the hospital.
Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation SA branch CEO Elizabeth Dabars led the rally attended by local nurses, community members and general practitioners.
"Enough is enough," she announced to the gathered crowd. "Nurses and midwives are just waiting for a disaster to happen - but they are not just going to stand and wait for that to happen, they are acting."
Around 80 people attended the rally, throwing their support behind nurses and midwives.
"Today shows a very significant level of support from the community of nurses and midwives in Naracoorte," Ms Dabars said.
"We're very grateful for that and we certainly want to keep engaged with the community and potentially call on their support in the future."
Kincraig Medical Clinic partners Drs Brian Norcock and Jeff Taylor attended the rally to throw their support behind the nurses.
Concerns were raised in September 2011 by nurses and midwives at Naracoorte Hospital according to Ms Dabars.
"The issue was raised at the local level - which is the appropriate way," she said.
"It was then escalated to senior level - which is again the way to raise it - when there was failure to act on the issues."
An agreement in principle prevented a dispute from happening then.
"A dispute was narrowly - very narrowly - avoided at that time because a commitment was given by senior executives that a worker's party would be established."
One was established but Ms Dabars said "nothing has changed."
"Despite the best efforts, despite the good faith that nurses and midwives have invested, despite the ongoing discussions and negotiations - nothing has changed for the better."
The federation has now lodged an official dispute with the Industrial Relations Commission.
Ms Dabars said the issue had built up over time, rather than being the result of a particular incident.
"It's the sustained nature of it - nurses and midwives are very hard working and dedicated, they need support with that."
She cited some alarming situations within the hospital.
"There are reports of nurses with 11 patients where they should have only five.
"We've had incidences where midwives have been in charge of the care of five mothers when they should only have 1-2 at a time."
Country Health SA CEO Belinda Moyes did not attend the rally, but disputed the claims by saying there was adequate staffing at Naracoorte Hospital in relation to nursing hours per patient.
"My assessment is we are not in breach," she said.
"We are meeting our obligations."
She said that invariably there were times where people were sick or unavailable to work, but Country Health SA strived to always have the right mix and number of staff available and that they are always in negotiations with staff.
Ms Moyes harboured no resentment to the rallying nurses.
"Nurses have the right to attend in their own time - I'm personally comfortable with this."
Back at the rally, Ms Dabars was scathing about Country Health SA's adherence to their responsibilities.
"Our responsibility to our patients is first and foremost - and that is what we see Country Health is failing to do for our patients," she said.
"The hospital and Country Health SA have an obligation to the patients and the community to ensure that they are transparent and accountable.
"Part of the blockers in relation to that endeavour is the hospital failing to provide any information about what staffing levels and mix they currently provide."
She addressed the crowd: "Does that suggest something to hide?"
In answer to questions about whether she had a response from Country Health and the hospital about the rally, Ms Dabars said she had heard nothing.
"No, interestingly I've heard absolutely nothing," she said. "We of course advised them of our intention to have these events on-site but I've heard no comment.
"We are of course always open to talk and we would like to have these issues resolved but I've had no correspondence from country health in relation to these issues - it is very disappointing."
Next week there will be a conciliation conference between the nurses and midwives and the senior executives which will determine the future course of the fight.
"We look forward to the industrial relations conciliation conference," Ms Dabars said. "At that time we will determine our action from there."
She concluded by commenting on the nature of the situation.
"The situation is pretty bad, pretty dire," she told the Herald.
"We're pretty hard workers, we know what tough work is like, but we also have a significant amount of respect and responsibility to our duties as nurses and midwives.
"The issue is fundamentally one of safe patient care."