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Duncan Murray

Nurses to sue NSW government over staff shortages

Nurses and midwives are launching legal action against the NSW government over staffing ratios they say are leaving patients with inadequate care.

The NSW Nurses and Midwives' Association revealed plans on Wednesday to file a case in the Supreme Court which accuses the government of repeatedly breaching award conditions.

It says widespread non-compliance with required staffing levels has deprived patients of more than 100,000 hours of nursing care at multiple public hospitals.

General Secretary, Shaye Candish says the shortages are putting patients at increased risk of adverse outcomes such as falls, pressure sores, blood clots as well as hospital acquired infections like pneumonia.

"We are talking about hundreds of thousands of nursing care hours not provided on general medical and surgical wards, meaning patients may have missed timely care, such as blood pressure checks, wound care, or showers due to inadequate or unsafe staffing," Ms Candish said.

Nurses and midwives have held repeated industrial action over the past year calling for mandated "safe" staffing ratios, along with better pay and conditions.

The union says it has evidence of inadequate staffing at major public hospitals including Royal Prince Alfred, Gosford, Wollongong, Westmead, Liverpool and Nepean.

The association identified Gosford Hospital on the Central Coast as the worst offender for staffing breaches, with 777 award contraventions over a four-year period.

"The 1484 contraventions we are filing today are just the tip of the iceberg," Ms Candish said.

"If anything, we have been conservative in this prosecution and have not included a large number of other hospitals that also breached the award repeatedly."

Both major parties are taking policies to the March 25 election they say will increase the number of staff on wards, while citing budget limitations in directly meeting the union's requests.

Opposition Leader Chris Minns has promised to introduce enforceable minimum staffing levels, beginning with emergency departments and gradually rolling out to other areas including maternity wards and ICUs.

In the most recent budget, the coalition allocated $4.5 billion over four years to recruit 10,148 full-time equivalent staff to hospitals and health services, which includes nurses and midwives as well as doctors, paramedics, pathologists and scientific staff.

A Labor government wants to add an additional 1200 nurses and midwives, on top of the coalition's target, over its first four years of government.

Labor will also provide subsidies to help 2000 healthcare students, knocking $12,000 off the cost of a degree, with the intention of attracting more people to the profession.

NSW has fallen behind other states in implementing legally mandated ratios, with Victoria, Queensland and the ACT already introducing them, while South Australia and Western Australia are both progressing measures, according to the association.

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