Nurses working more than 16 hours straight, rally for safer conditions 

7 November 2019

Increasing numbers of fatigued nurses and midwives are reporting having to work double and extended shifts, as Flinders Medical Centre and Mount Gambier Hospital nurses and midwives today rally for improved staff and patient safety conditions in their next enterprise agreement.

“A staff member here just completed a 16.75-hour stint,” says a nurse from one State hospital. “They started at 9am, finished at 1.45am the following morning and then had to front up for their next shift after only an eight-hour break. This is an unsafe practice that has implications for both staff and patients.”

Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (SA Branch) CEO/Secretary Elizabeth Dabars AM says measures to prevent this all too common scenario are among those rejected by the State Government during enterprise bargaining negotiations.

“How can members of our community be assured they are receiving the best possible care if the nurse or midwife providing that care has been working for 16 consecutive hours?” Ms Dabars says.

“And expecting that same staff member to turn up to their next shift after only a few hours’ sleep is just irresponsible,” she says.

Although enterprise bargaining discussions are now expected to resume next week, Ms Dabars says the State-wide industrial action will continue.

“Unless the State Government gives a clear commitment to revisiting its position on key measures including those creating a risk to the safety of staff or patients, nurses and midwives will continue to campaign on these issues in the public interest.”

Last week, the State Government wrote to the ANMF (SA Branch) confirming its opposition to almost every staff and patient safety measure being sought by nurses and midwives in their enterprise agreement.

“Patient and staff safety should not be up for negotiation,” she says.

“Conditions that permit nurses and midwives to care for people’s lives on almost no sleep are a recipe for disaster.”

“Would you want the theatre nurse helping with your life-saving surgery to have only had a few hours’ sleep?”

Nurses and midwives are reporting their concerns at to let the community know what is at stake as part of their negotiations with government.

“There is insufficient staffing here, which means we have to do extended shifts, which only adds to the level of fatigue we all feel,” reports one midwife.

“We’ve got nurses on the floor who are doing overtime or double shifts and getting exhausted,” a nurse says.

“Patients don’t get the level of care you should expect—and that’s what we worry about all the time,” reports a nurse and midwife.

Nursing and midwifery enterprise bargaining claims fall across three major areas:

  • Safe staffing and skills mix to meet the needs of patients now and in the future;
  • Ensuring the availability of enough nurses and midwives in the future, given 50 per cent of the workforce is expected to retire in the coming years; and
  • Attraction and retention of nurses and midwives through better incentives and improved safety and working conditions.

Enterprise bargaining negotiations in May on an agreement to replace the 2016 model which expired in September.

Sites taking industrial action today include:

  • Flinders Medical Centre
  • Breast Screen SA
  • Cummins & District Mem Hospital
  • Dale Street Women’s Health Centre - ACCHS
  • Kimba District Health & Aged Care
  • Metropolitan Referral Unit (SALHN)
  • Mount Gambier & District Health Service
  • Mt Gambier Community & Allied Health
  • My Health
  • SA Pathology
  • Tumby Bay Hospital & Health Services
  • Wudinna Hospital