Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2009 Week 11 Hansard (Tuesday, 15 Sept 2009) . . Page.. 3964 ..
indeed over the last six months or so we have seen a very significant reduction in vacancies in the order of from 130 full-time equivalents in March 2009, that is 130 vacancies, to 62 full-time equivalents in August 2009. The preference is on permanent staff, not just for continuity of care and the fact that nurses are attached to wards and work in a team environment but also relating to cost. Agency nurses can be two to three times the cost of permanent staff, and at the same time as we are looking at staffing issues across the hospital we are also looking at how we contain costs at the hospital.
Agency nurses are certainly still in use—they will always be in use—but we are asking nurse managers to consider other alternatives such as redeployment from other areas across the hospital and the use of the casual pool or the part-time pool for working additional shifts. Again, this not only gives nurses who work at our hospitals additional work opportunities if they want it; it also limits the cost—and in health I think around 70 per cent of costs are staff costs. This is an obvious area where we are looking to ensure that we remain within budget; we are looking seriously at the use of agency nurses, which are very expensive. But I have to say that I have sought assurances from ACT Health that the hospital is adequately staffed at all times, that patient safety is number one. I have been given the assurance that that is the case. But certainly nurse managers are being asked to consider those other means of staffing their wards, if there are vacancies on a roster, prior to just automatically calling in an agency nurse.
MR SPEAKER: Ms Bresnan, a supplementary question?
MS BRESNAN: Minister, nurses have raised concerns about the proposed changes and have said they are short staffed. Are these concerns correct and have they been addressed?
MS GALLAGHER: Certainly where they have been raised with me, and I think the ANF probably have raised this with me. We occasionally get the notification reports that the ANF promotes to their members. I occasionally receive them in my office from time to time. They are asked to lodge a report if they are concerned with workforce shortage on their ward. All of those are investigated and responded to.
I accept that while we are tightening the protocols around the use of agency nurses, there will be some turbulence from staff. We are certainly tightening the management and control of this in an attempt to contain costs. One of the biggest cost blow-outs at the hospital is the use of agency nurses. Whilst our preference is to use permanent staff to fill any vacancies we have, I think that is good for the hospital, but also good for the budget.
MR SPEAKER: Ms Burch, a supplementary?
MS BURCH: It is on nursing staff. Can the minister tell the Assembly what activities and strategies ACT Health has to increase the on-staff pool to reduce the need for agency staff?
MS GALLAGHER: The most significant strategy is to fill the vacancies with permanent staff and extend the graduate nurse intake—the graduate nurse intake for