Wednesday, August 04, 2021

One way of fixing it

Yesterday, in response to upcoming industrial action, DHBs decided to take the nurses' union to court, claiming they weren't doing enough to guarantee safe staffing levels during the strike. The core issue in the strike is... safe staffing levels, so there's a heavy dose of irony there. And its a lovely coincidence that the very next day, Dunedin Hospital is being slapped with legal action over its unsafe staffing levels:

Fears patients could die waiting for treatment in Dunedin Hospital’s beleaguered emergency department have prompted staff to take legal action demanding urgent improvement.

Pressure of high patient numbers and low staffing levels routinely meant staff went into the toilets to cry, emergency department health and safety representative Anne Daniels said.

Last Thursday, after a nurse told her there were no toilets free to cry in, Ms Daniels lodged a provisional improvement notice (Pin) with the Southern District Health Board.

The notice, an action under the Health and Safety at Work Act, requires a workplace to display the notice and take steps within eight days to address the safety issues raised or face possible further action.


The notice said staff had experienced ‘‘emotional, psychological, ethical and physical harm’’ while in a workplace which did not meet Australasian guidelines for triage patients.

The next step would be prosecution under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, which has severe penalties for running an unsafe workplace. The officers of the DHB are individually liable (and legally cannot be insured), and face fines of up to $300,000. If they're found to be reckless - which a long history of ignoring safety complaints should establish - then they could go to jail. Which you'd think would provide an incentive. And it also shows what else nurses could do if their concerns about safe staffing continue to be ignored. DHB's can either address them cooperatively through the bargaining process, or they can defend themselves against prosecution by WorkSafe. Their choice.