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