NURSES have slammed "ridiculous" comments made by State Health Minister John Hill about understaffing at country hospitals.
In response to Minister Hill's allegations that "the Liberals' claims about nurse staffing of our country hospitals are scaremongering", Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation SA branch CEO Elizabeth Dabars was scathing.
"That is a ridiculous assertion," she told the Herald. "I do deny that assertion in the most robust of terms.
"You cannot tell me that the tears and the anxiety and the distress country nurses and midwives are feeling isn't real."
Ms Dabars said she had heard from the nurses directly about their situation and suggested the minister do the same.
"They need to get out on the ground," she said. "Their (the nurses and midwives) concerns are real."
Ms Dabars led a protest rally outside the Naracoorte Hospital on September 25 campaigning for safer patient and staff care through more nurses and midwives at the hospital.
The rally was attended by a good crowd of local nurses and community members.
On October 1 the federation and Country Health SA went to the SA Industrial Relations Commission to hear the federation's case after a 12-month struggle for better nursing conditions.
The focus of the concilliation conference was to have Country Health SA release staffing data from the Naracoorte Hospital.
The recommendations from the commission confirm that Country Health SA is to release key patient and staffing data for the months of August and September 2012, which the federation expects to be made available on October 19.
Ms Dabars welcomed the eventual recommendations from the commission as "a positive step forward" which will allow the federation to "start the conversation" with Country Health.
This conversation will centre around identification and resolution of the long running concerns that nurses and midwives at Naracoorte Hospital have continued to raise over the last 12 months.
"The recommendations from the commission are a significant step forward in overcoming the attitude of Country Health SA and will be fundamental in ensuring genuine discussion can be held relating to safe staffing levels at the hospital," Ms Dabars said.
But Ms Dabars expressed indignation at the two hours spent in the conciliation conference.
"What is there to talk about?" she remarked. "Whilst this is a positive step forward for nurses and midwives at Naracoorte Hospital, it is very disappointing that it required two hours of commission time and, even more importantly, 12 months of nurses and midwives continuously raising these issues at the hospital to achieve."
She stressed the information which will be provided was of the utmost importance to the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation SA branch.
"Very importantly, the recommendations from the commission make clear that the federation has a legitimate interest in this information and that the provision of this data is not burdensome on Country Health SA," Ms Dabars said.
While Country Health still maintains that nursing levels and staff mix meet guidelines, Ms Dabars said those guidelines were a minimum level.
Following the action at Naracoorte and its fallout, the federation is pushing the issue at other SA regional hospitals.
"Following the release of the commission's recommendations, we have also written to Country Health SA, again seeking data in relation to Berri Hospital and Gumeracha Hospitals which we have previously requested following serious concerns being raised by nurses and midwives at those hospitals," Ms Dabars stated.
“We have also put Country Health SA on notice that we require a clear strategy regarding repairing the clear breaches of safe staffing levels at Mount Gambier, Port Pirie and Whyalla Hospitals within seven days (from October 2).
“In the absence of the provision of a satisfactory strategy within that timeframe, we have put Country Health on notice that it is our intention to prosecute for breach.”
The CEO admitted she hoped the issue wouldn’t reach that stage.
“Whilst we hope it does not come to that, nurses, midwives and their patients have suffered enough and we are committed to ensuring that safe, quality patient care is paramount,” she said.
Ms Dabars had a message for the supporters of the federation’s actions and called for their continued support:
“We have been grateful for the support of the community to date and ask that the community continue to support nurses’ and midwives’ ability to provide them with safe, quality care, by signing the ‘Country Health Care Compromised’ petition available at www.anmfsa.org.au.”