Staffing at RAH in critical condition

14 September 2020

The exodus of senior staff at the RAH Emergency Department is a case of the State Government and the Department for Health “reaping what they sow”, says the ANMF (SA Branch).

“We’ve been raising this issue about the turn of staff for a long time now, at least more than 12 months, we’ve been very concerned,’’ ANMF (SA Branch) CEO/Secretary Adj. Associate Professor Elizabeth Dabars AM told 5AA morning announcer Leon Byner.

“And we were just told the spin that it was normal churn, normal attrition, nothing to see here.

The reality is that people under this considerable pressure, it’s just not sustainable, they do end up leaving.’’

A report in the Sunday Mail on the weekend cited a leaked memo which revealed the RAH emergency department is struggling to meet the needs of patients due to a lack of senior nurses.

The memo showed that on some days and nights, fewer than half of senior staff required for shifts are available to be rostered. Another senior nurse said “a litany of problems, including internal ramping, record low staff morale and an exodus of senior nurses is compromising patient safety’’, the Sunday Mail reported.

The memo stated more than 20 staff are on secondments, with not enough staff to ‘backfill’ the secondments.

“Most of the staff on secondment are senior, which leaves the junior staff to step up to many roles that may challenge them,” the Mail reported the leaked memo as saying.

“If you are feeling a bit overwhelmed please speak to a senior member of staff and we will try to change your allocations so you get a bit of a break from all the high-pressure roles’’.

A senior nurse who spoke to the Sunday Mail on the condition of anonymity said “patient safety is at risk”. “Junior staff are being put in positions that experienced nurses would be baulking at,” the nurse said.

“When nurses are under that much pressure there are going to be things that are missed. “We got through the peak of COVID but we are left with fewer resources and nurses.”
It's also understood almost half of the ED at the RAH is taken up with dealing with mental health patients, with many staff not qualified to treat them appropriately.

It was reported today that an elderly woman had waited almost five days for mental health treatment after presenting to the RAH Emergency Department.

And there were again reports of ramping across hospitals this morning.

Ms Dabars said two years ago the Minister for Health Stephen Wade left ramping solutions up to the Local Health Networks.

“It’s clear that approach hasn’t worked,’’ she said.

“The Government needs to fix ramping, both the internal and the external. They need to deal with the issue of seniority of staff, they need to address that issue of retention.

“We know there are serious issues in capacity.

“As recently as August we called on Mr Wade to urgently address those issues relating to patient flow, to avoid preventable deaths or injury to patients, and we again call on him.

“The recruitment is so sluggish, it beggars belief.

“We constantly hear of this issue, we constantly raise this issue and once again we always get told ‘nothing to see here’.

“The Government needs to recruit, they need to retain and they need to address the fundamental issue which is the pressure on the system.’’

Ms Dabars encouraged members of the community to contact their local MP and tell them “to pull their finger out and get on with it’’.

“This is about making sure the community has access to safe, quality staff and safe quality care,’’ she said.