Valley ‘still left wanting’

DESPITE Latrobe Valley being identified as a ‘hot-spot’ in desperate need of new mental health nursing positions when they are rolled out across Victoria, allocations are tipped to fall well short of meeting those needs.

Speaking with The Express after a new enterprise agreement was recently finalised, following months of protracted negotiations between the State Government and the Australian Nurses Federation, ANF acting secretary Paul Gilbert said the Valley’s needs were well-known but inevitable compromises between unions and government meant this region would still be left wanting.

Mr Gilbert said the ANF expected all public sector mental health nurses would be able to vote for their agreement in a ballot through the Australian Electoral Commission early next month, with a view to seeing it implemented by December.

“We are really keen to concentrate on the work required to implement the additional mental health nurses to ease workloads in areas of greatest need because nurses and their patients and clients have waited too long,” he said.

Mr Gilbert said though the agreement meant the Valley’s mental health nurses could look forward to up to seven months back-pay owing from a 2.5 per cent backdated wage increase, any easing of workplace pressure was likely to be minimal given 43 new nursing positions would need to be spread across the state.

Though the new positions were “absolutely hard fought for” and welcome in light of workforce cuts underway in other states, Mr Gilbert said of the 43 new Equivalent Full Time jobs, one would be automatically allocated to forensic care in Melbourne and the remaining 42 “EFTs” equated to about 23 “seven-day roster lines”.

He said those statistics meant Latrobe Regional Hospital, whose needs were recognised as “critical”, would likely only see one extra worker allocated to its high-dependency psychiatric unit.

“That’s not enough,” Mr Gilbert said.

“We had some hospitals identified as needing up to 70 or 80 more EFTs, with (LRH) very much one of those hospitals but the reality is we had to compromise on what could be achieved, as you always do in bargaining, and we had to focus on the most critical needs.”

While Mr Gilbert said the State Government could do “a lot more” and “everyone is feeling a bit unloved at the moment”, compared with the savage cuts taking place in Queensland and New South Wales, “we are in a relatively better space than some others”.

Securing a government commitment for new positions followed an ongoing ANF campaign warning Victoria’s high-dependency units were “historically unsafe”.

Mr Gilbert said acute inpatient units such at LRH’s Flynn Ward faced severe staff shortages sometimes requiring night duty nurses to care for up to 20 patients on their own while others tended to high-dependency patients.

“That is a particular gap we identified and we are looking to have the new positions (help) address that,” he said.

Mr Gilbert said it was “an enormous relief” to conclude negotiations after 13 months.

He said once approved by Fair Work Australia wage increases would apply as well as increased annual leave entitlements to registered psychiatric nurses and psychiatric enrolled nurses.

A new enrolled nurse career structure would also be implemented.