Nurses’ union launches industrial action at Emergency department

MUMN seeks industrial action as shortage of senior nurses leading to fears of unsafe practices

File photo: The Emergency departments needs more senior nurses to help train the juniors
File photo: The Emergency departments needs more senior nurses to help train the juniors

The Malta Union of Midwives and Nurses has launched industrial action at Mater Dei Hospital over the shortage of senior nurses at the Emergency department.

Speaking to MaltaToday, MUMN general secretary Colin Galea said the situation was sparking fear of unsafe practices as work that should be carried out by senior nurses was being carried out by junior nurses.

“The Emergency department needs at least 14 senior nurses during the day and 11 senior nurses during the night. But the shortage in the current staff complement is seeing junior nurses taking over some of the work. The fact that they are not certified to work alone is leading to unsafe practices,” Galea said.

The Emergency department employs a system of junior and senior nurses, with the trained nurses helping in the training of the juniors. As per EU standards, nurses at the emergency department are required to undergo a two-year training, after which they are certified as “able to work alone”. The training would see the junior nurses covering different modules, including accompanying paramedics on the ambulance and work in the control room, among others.

The current number of senior nurses stands at eight and 10, depending on the number of nurses on leave and sick leave. The shortage means that a junior nurse is now replacing a senior nurse.

The directive issued by the MUMN calls on nurses not to carry out the triage – the system used by the hospital to determine the degree of urgency of a patient.

Any patient admitted to the hospital will be cared for, but they will not be immediately assessed by a nurse. “This will allow the senior nurses to concentrate on the floor work,” Galea added.

He insisted that such industrial action was required after months of discussions with the Health Ministry failed. “We can’t risk working under unsafe practices: it’s bad for both patients and nurses.”

During a radio interview earlier this week, Health Minister Chris Fearne said that, as from Monday, 125 new nurses will be joining the Health Department, seven of which are nurses returning to the profession. He also said that 11 new nurses were engaged during the summer.

Galea pointed out that a lot of the training is carried out by senior nurses: “But how can they provide the training if they are swamped with work? The hospital needs to increase the number of nurses who can train the juniors.”

In a reaction, shadow health minister Claudette Buttigieg accused the government of creating the problem “with its wrong priorities”.

“The industrial action confirms that, instead of working to strengthen the healthcare services, the government is focusing on the wrong priorities. The problems in the emergency department are constant and the government is doing nothing to address them,” she said.

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