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Australia: Western Sydney nurses protest unsafe conditions for patients as union steps up isolation

Nurses at two Western Sydney hospitals held demonstrations at the end of their shifts on Monday morning, protesting chronic understaffing and overcrowding amid a growing surge of COVID-19 infections.

Nurses protesting at Westmead, Western Sydney, July 18, 2022

The Blacktown and Westmead Hospital health workers were calling for mandatory nurse-to-patient ratios of 1:3 in emergency departments and 1:4 on general wards, as well as an overall increase in staff numbers.

As a result of staff shortages, the nurses said, patients are waiting hours for urgent care, some suffering heart attacks or strokes in waiting rooms, and are frequently forced to sleep in corridors as there are no staffed beds available in emergency or on wards.

The longstanding staffing crisis in health has been dramatically worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic. Currently, there are more than 2,200 COVID-19 patients in NSW hospitals, a figure that is rapidly approaching the January peak of 2,943. More than 2,500 health workers in the state are unable to work due to COVID-19 infection or exposure.

This is the direct result of the abandonment of virtually all public health measures under the “let it rip” policies embraced by all Australian governments, Labor and Liberal-National alike. This homicidal strategy has created the conditions for the current wave of infection and illness to be far worse than the initial Omicron surge.

The workers also face cuts to real wages, as they, like all public sector workers in New South Wales (NSW), are subject to a punitive cap on annual wage increases. While this was recently increased from 2.5 percent to 3 percent in response to a wave of industrial action, it is still far below the official inflation figure of 5.1 percent.

The decision by dozens of nurses at each of the hospitals to protest on their own time, at the end of a gruelling twelve-hour night shift, reflects both the magnitude of the escalating crisis and the determination of workers to fight for the interests of their patients and themselves.

But the current demonstrations, organized by the New South Wales Nurses and Midwives Association (NSWNMA), were little more than public relations stunts, designed to further the union’s isolation of workers and contort their struggle into a Labor election campaign.

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