MURWILLUMBAH hospital is set to be plunged into turmoil once again as ward staff and specialist infection control cleaners threaten to walk off the job indefinitely from Monday.
Workers are preparing to strike until their demands for at least another two cleaners to service hospital wards and non-clinical areas are met.
Ward staff and specialist infection control cleaners said yesterday they would refuse to clean the education centre, which includes multi-level university student accommodation, to prioritise clinical wards instead.
Their action follows months of wrangling at the hospital, as the community fought to retain birthing services, which were restored late last month.
Health Services Union spokesperson Jonathan Milman said over the past 18 months the hospital had expanded in the Emergency and Medical Imagining departments, but no new cleaners had been hired to clean the expanded wards.
Mr Milman said the hospital had also utilised an additional building for allied health staff, finance and administrative staff, but the Northern NSW Local Health District had not provided additional cleaners for those areas.
Infection control cleaners claimed they had been forced to work overtime to keep up with the added work flow.
Mr Milman said staff were concerned about the impact current staffing could have on infection rates.
He said figures supplied to him by hospital staff showed a potential rise in infection rates over the last 18 months, with 253 infectious patient rooms cleaned in 2014.
In the first quarter of 2015, a total of 151 infectious patient rooms had been cleaned.
If the increase continues, infectious room clean-ups will double in one year, he said.
“We believe there has been an increase in infections acquired in the hospital because the staff are stretched just far too wide,” Mr Milman said.
“They’re being pulled out of those acute clinical priority areas to clean non-clinical areas, which means it actually puts people at risk of lower cleaning standards.
“Our members refuse to continue to place patients, doctors, nurses and the community at risk of increased infection in their hospital.
“It appears that Murwillumbah is suffering a cost-savings agenda by the State Government.”
Northern NSW Health chief executive Chris Crawford was contacted for response but was unavailable before deadline.