Around 200 concerned citizens stood behind their local nurses is a show of support in Bruxner Park on Friday morning, fighting for a return to three nurses per shift before the opening of Tenterfield Hospital's new emergency department (ED), now slated for August 19.
Of major concert is the heavy door separating the ED from inpatients, meaning often-frail inpatients are left to their own devices if two nurses are attending an emergency, or isolating one nurse to deal with potentially-dangerous scenarios in the ED.
As pointed out by Councillor Bronwyn Petrie, representing both Tenterfield Shire Council and NSW Farmers, farming, forestry and mining are recognised as the industries with the most accidents, and Tenterfield has all three.
"We might be the end of the state but we're not the bottom of the barrel."Cr Bronwyn Petrie
Being involved in these industries Ms Petrie said she's spent more than her share of time in the ED.
"I've seen more than three nurses flat out in ED," she told the crowd, let alone the two nurses per shift to cover the whole hospital that Hunter New England Local Health District is dictating.
"We might be the end of the state but we're not the bottom of the barrel."
She said risk management should not be based on population numbers.
"We have high tourist numbers and we're on the intersection of two major highways. The (health) minister and Hunter New England have a duty to provide proper care."
Recently-retired nurse Colin Chevalley said if not for the wonderful staff he worked with, he would have left earlier. He felt HNELHD administrators have little concern for their staff, not even making contact with him when he was battling cancer.
He said HNELHD has a code of conduct that prevents staff from speaking out about issues, but that it needs to abide by it also and look after its staff.
"They just don't care about us. We've got a bloody good little health service.
"We might be the end of the line, but we're not the bottom of the barrel."
In a statement read out from MP Janelle Saffin, who couldn't attend the rally, she said she stood with the Tenterfield Hospital nurses and health staff, and the Tenterfield community, to rightfully have and be able to deliver the health services it deserves.
"Post codes and distance from Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong are not and cannot be the determinants of health services.
"Health services we need can only be delivered with proper staff numbers to provide the best and safest patient care. The NSW Nurses and Midwives Association say we need to go back to 3-3-3 for the nursing roster and I support their call.
"The Liberal-National Government gave a commitment to deliver 8300 more frontline staff with 5000 of them being nurses and midwives, to public hospitals in NSW.
"Well they can start in Tenterfield, with the 3-3-3."
NSW Nurses and Midwives' Association organiser Jo-Anne McKeough said two nurses cannot possibly provide care for inpatients and the community. She said it's government philosophy that small hospitals don't need staffing, that they can do everything on a minimum when the opposite is true.
"You don't have the resources, you don't have an agency service to call, you don't have another doctor to call, you don't have an ambulance service around the corner that's there in two seconds, you can't run to the nearest hospital."
She said with HNELHD just announcing a $1.4 billion investment in hospital upgrades, a couple of hundred thousand dollars for two extra nurses and 80 hours of care isn't asking for much.
"Do the maths."
Staffing issues are not restricted to our own hospital. Ms McKeough said Dungog Hospital also has the 2x2x2 nurse roster and recently had its ED ripped apart.
"They had no way to protect themselves or their patients."
Ms McKeough said afterwards that she was pleased with the turnout to the rally given the short notice.
"There's a lot of community feeling, so things should come off that."
She warned, however, that HNELHD will dig in its heels over the staffing issue as it will set a precedent for other small hospitals such as Dungog.
"But that would be a good thing."
Petitions for three nurses per shift can now be found at many businesses, and supporters are encouraged to add their name by next Friday.
They can also be found at the Westpac Helicopter op shop. As the support group's president Dodge Landers remarked, maybe the community should ask for money for a stadium, which seems to be more forthcoming.
Here's some video footage of the rally..