Patients could find themselves getting treated in unhygienic Dubbo hospital beds if more staff aren't hired to make and maintain them.
That's the view of the Health Services Union (HSU), whose local members walked off the job on Thursday without pay because of an ongoing dispute about staffing levels and who is responsible for cleaning and making beds after patients are discharged.
"Nursing staff were previously responsible for sanitising the beds but they don't have time do it so our members have been asked to," HSU representative Cindy Paull told the Daily Liberal during the four hour stop-work meeting.
Workers — many of whom are health and security assistants or cleaners – said this shifting of job responsibilities could pose a risk to patient safety and hospital hygiene.
"If i'm sanitising beds i'm not securing the wards and safety should be my number one priority," long term hospital worker Luke Sullivan said.
"They [management] keep saying they're increasing staff numbers but they're just shifting them [staff] around.
"I believe that sanitisation should be done by patient service assistants — not health and security assistants or cleaners."
HSU member Theresa Dandridge said corners always have to be cut when workers have to find time to take on additional responsibilities — in addition to their existing duties.
"We're getting extra duties we can't handle," she said.
"The standard will drop if we are forced to make beds."
The HSU said this issue isn't new and claimed the Western NSW Local Health District (WNSWLHD) management team were first made aware of their concerns in 2016.
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"We've wrote to Sydney hospitals and none do what our members are being asked to do," Ms Paull said.
"A memo was sent [by the WNSWLHD] to nursing staff advising them to ask our members to sanitise the beds. If they don't they'll be performance managed."
Ms Paull said while HSU members welcomed additional money being spent to redevelop Dubbo hospital, staffing is critical.
"You can build the Taj Mahal but unless you've got staff to service it, the community will be at risk," she said.
A WNSWLHD spokesperson said at multiple meetings in 2017, HSU members were told health and security assistants and hospital assistants should be responsible for sanitising soiled beds.
"On November 1, 2017 the WNSWLHD advised the HSU that the relevant industrial award supports that staff undertaking these roles are required to sanitise beds," the spokesperson said.
"The WNSWLHD received no reply from the HSU since that time and felt the matter had been resolved.
"Continued negotiations to avoid this action occurred this morning, however, it has not been resolved at this time.
"Our high standard of patient care and safety will be maintained during this period of time."
The HSU members who stopped work said they now refuse to make or sanitise beds until the WNSWLHD hires more staff.