Nurses’ union warns of ‘im­mi­nent’ strike at St Vin­cent De Paul over staff ra­tios

Malta Independent - - NEWS - Neil Camil­leri

The Malta Union of Mid­wives and Nurses yes­ter­day warned that a strike at St Vin­cent De Paul was “im­mi­nent” and that nurses at the home for the el­derly had had it up to their neck with the man­age­ment’s hard head­ed­ness.

Ad­dress­ing a press con­fer­ence MUMN Pres­i­dent Maria Cu­ta­jar said the is­sue re­volved around staff ra­tios. A re­cent study had shown that there were sim­ply not enough nurses and car­ers to deal with the ever grow­ing num­ber of pa­tients with greater de­pen­den­cies but the hospi­tal man­age­ment and the govern­ment were drag­ging their feet on the mat­ter.

Quot­ing from the study, Ms Cu­ta­jar said SVP had evolved from a home for the el­derly into a form of acute hospi­tal. How­ever, staff num­bers and ra­tios had not changed. The study, which was car­ried out by a pri­vate firm, found that there were not enough nurses to cater for the num­ber of el­derly pa­tients and their needs. This was lead­ing to un­nec­es­sary strain and stress. Ms Cu­ta­jar said the lack of nurses on night shifts was es­pe­cially ap­par­ent. “Nurses pray that no emer­gen­cies take place dur­ing the night hours be­cause there are sim­ply not enough peo­ple to deal with these sit­u­a­tions.”

She said the study fo­cused on an anal­y­sis of the needs – present and fu­ture – of res­i­dents at SVP, the level of work re­quired by nurs­ing staff and car­ers, a 10-year plan and an ex­er­cise to iden­tify what equip­ment was needed.

The study high­lighted the change in de­mo­graph­ics over the years. “While in past years peo­ple would go to SVP in their six­ties the high­est num­ber of ap­pli­cants are in the 80-89 year bracket, fol­lowed by those aged be­tween 90 and 99.” The study found that more than half of the pa­tients re­sid­ing at SVP this year have se­vere de­pen­den­cies.

Nurses car­ried out sev­eral tasks two or three times daily. These in­clude wash­ing the pa­tients, feeding them, mov­ing them around to avoid pres­sure sores and dress­ing wounds. There is also a lot of pa­per­work that has to be car­ried out.

The study also shed light on the abuse nurses are some­times sub­jected to by pa­tients or fam­ily mem­bers. “They feel that they do not have the man­age­ment’s sup­port on this and this is very con­cern­ing for us.”

Ms Cu­ta­jar out­lined the steps that needed to be taken. Wards should be al­lo­cated one more nurse dur­ing night shifts with im­me­di­ate ef­fect.

In the medium term staffing ra­tions have to be re­vised to en­sure a bet­ter dis­tri­bu­tion of nurses dur­ing day and night hours. In the long term all wards have to be re­ar­ranged to hold no more than 28 pa­tients. At present wards ac­com­mo­date more than 40 peo­ple.

MUMN Sec­re­tary Gen­eral Colin Galea said at least 120 new nurses were needed to reach the ‘Ba­sic Safe Care’ level. He said the union had planned how to im­ple­ment the re­quired changes in a grad­ual man­ner.

Mr Galea, how­ever, ac­cused the SVP man­age­ment of drag­ging its feet and en­gag­ing in un­nec­es­sary hard-head­ed­ness and claimed that it was re­sist­ing the com­mon sense changes be­ing pro­posed by the MUMN. “We had is­sued di­rec­tives and the au­thor­i­ties de­ployed a few more nurses to the pool but the num­bers are still not enough. To make mat­ters worse the SVP man­age­ment prefers leav­ing nurses idling in the kitchen while oth­ers are break­ing their backs in the se­verely un­der­staffed wards.”

Mr Grech said he had never seen any­thing of the sort in his 20-year nurs­ing ca­reer and said this was noth­ing short of scan­dalous.

The MUMN, he said, had also ap­proached Par­lia­men­tary Sec­re­tary Justyne Caru­ana but noth­ing had been achieved.

“We will to­day write to the man­age­ment telling them that we will re­sort to strike ac­tion if they do not act now.”

The MUMN Sec­re­tary Gen­eral said pres­sure had been mount­ing for quite some time and the threat of a strike was now real and im­mi­nent.

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