Nurses and midwives in Tasmania have flagged industrial action over chronic understaffing issues exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.
The state branch of the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) this week launched an urgent application with the Tasmanian Industrial Commission.
The union argues staffing levels are unsafe at the state’s major hospitals and testing and vaccinations clinics following the border reopening in mid-December.
Branch secretary Emily Shepherd says the health department has not provided a plan to resolve ongoing and sustained unreasonable workloads.
The ANMF wants a “float nurse” allocated in wards and units so staff can be relieved to take breaks.
It also wants the state government to provide indemnification for any liability to members for adverse events or adverse patient outcomes if benchmarked or agreed safe staffing levels are not achieved on shift.
The union is also seeking staffing data from the state government through the industrial commission process.
Ms Shepherd says union members will consider reducing services if safe staffing outcomes are not found by Monday.
The state health department says it is committed to working towards a resolution and the parties will meet later this week.
“We’ve got a wonderful workforce. Of course there is additional pressure when we have this level of hospitalisations from COVID,” Department of Health Deputy Secretary Dale Webster said on Tuesday.
“All of our staff and managers are aware of the need for additional breaks during the shift so people can hydrate wearing PPE.
“In Launceston for instance, we’ve popped a couple of tents in the park next door so people can go out to that space. We are trying to look after our staff on a daily basis.”
Tasmania recorded 699 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, an increase on Monday’s figure of 504.
Sixteen positive cases are in hospital, with eight of those receiving care specifically for the virus — an increase of one. One person is in intensive care.
The remaining eight positive cases are in hospital for unrelated medical issues, the state health department says.
Tasmania has recorded 18 coronavirus deaths, with five of those occurring since the state reopened to mainland hotspots on December 15.
“Even prior to borders opening, there were significant numbers of overtime and double shifts. With borders opening, that has exacerbated it,” Ms Shepherd told ABC radio.
“On a day-to-day basis we’ve got members working in wards and units up to 18 hours a day doing a double shift to maintain safe staffing.
“There are times, more often than not … that they don’t manage to meet the benchmark level of staffing that they’re required to have.”
There are 3921 documented active cases across the state, a substantial decrease from 4903 the day prior.