Toowoomba hospital cuts nursing staff hours ahead of EBA
A TOOWOOMBA private hospital has cut working hours to its nursing staff, after seeing patient numbers drop as a result of COVID-19 restrictions limiting elective surgery.
St Andrew's Toowoomba Hospital is assessing its options after witnessing a 60 per cent drop in patient numbers as a result of the new measures to stop the spread of coronavirus.
It comes as the organisation prepares to enter into enterprise bargaining agreement negotiations with the Queensland Nurses and Midwives' Union this month.
The hospital, which has nearly 300 permanent nursing staff and 160 casual workers, revealed it had been forced to cut back hours and get employees to take leave if available.
CEO Ray Fairweather said the decision was difficult but necessary to ensure the hospital's financial sustainability.
"Our doctors' private practices have been significantly impacted by the new regulations, and it has reduced the hospital patient numbers by close to 60 per cent," he said.
"St Andrew's staff who work in clinical areas directly impacted by the new elective surgery restrictions have had their work hours reduced and offered the opportunity to access their annual or long service leave entitlements during this slow period.
"The decision to temporarily reduce the hours of a small proportion of our staff (approximately 12 per cent of permanent staff) was a difficult but necessary decision, to safeguard the hospital's financial future."
The response comes after a letter from Mr Fairweather revealed the hospital would push to drop nursing staff wages to the current award rates at the upcoming EBA negotiations.
Currently, SATH nursing staff are paid 11 per cent better than their colleagues at St Vincent's Private Hospital.
"SATH has now formed the view that the existing EBA is onerous and is placing significant financial pressure on our ability to sustainably deliver services and will be advocating a return to modern award provisions and commits to wage rate parity with St Vincent's Private Hospital Toowoomba," the April 3 letter, obtained by The Chronicle, said.
Mr Fairweather's letter also detailed other factors that were hurting private facilities financially, including falling private health insurance participation rates, greater policy exclusions, the public sector harvesting private patients, out of pocket charges, rising incidents of chronic conditions and less episodic care and health fund pressures.
In his reponse to questions around the hospital's current financial situation, Mr Fairweather said SATH was seeking support from the Federal Government to ease the pressure during the coronavirus pandemic.
"The hospital is considering two government financial assistance schemes," he said.
"These two options are the JobKeepers Payment Scheme and the recently announced Private Hospital Viability Payment Guarantee.
"We will be in a position to confirm which of these funding schemes we are able to access shortly, therefore ensuring the financial stability of this important not-for-profit, community hospital."
UNION RAISES LEGAL ISSUES AROUND EBA NEGOTIATIONS
QUEENSLAND Nurses and Midwives' Union secretary Beth Mohle questioned the timing of the upcoming negotiations, especially during the unfolding COVID-19 crisis.
"The QNMU is a bargaining representative in this process and has not yet entered into negotiations with St Andrew's management regarding that EBA. This was due to start in the coming weeks," she said.
"This raises potential legal issues around good faith bargaining at a time union resources are being spent attending to immediate and pressing needs of our members across the state.
"It is also poorly timed considering the unsettling situation faced by nurses during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"As always, the QNMU will ensure the rights of members are protected during this negotiation and seek to engage with St Andrew's management in good faith.
"It is worth noting that all EBAs, once successfully negotiated, must be approved by the Fair Work Commission."
Mr Fairweather noted that it was possible the Federal Government might mandate that existing EBA provisions remain in place during the difficult economic period.