Staffing at Goulburn Base Hospital has been so pressured that health authorities proposed to resource the maternity ward with paramedics, a union has claimed.
The move almost went ahead over the Christmas break but was aborted after representations from the paramedics' union.
NSW Nurses and Midwives Association southern region organiser Pippa Watts made the claims and said it was symptomatic of current stresses on the health system.
"Goulburn and Crookwell Hospitals are just a drop in the ocean compared to what's happening around the state," she said.
"Nurses are tired and stressed and many of them are working double shifts. Some are calling in sick because they're burnt out and don't know what else to do. Nurses are covering these shifts because they care for their community, but it doesn't make it right."
Ms Watts described the system as "broken," with nurses leaving the profession after many years' service.
The COVID-19 pandemic was creating extra pressure, she told The Post. Within the Health District, Goulburn and Bega's South East Regional Hospital are treating facilities.
Working in full PPE gear throughout their shifts was also "physically draining" and was adding to nurses' exhaustion.
The organiser said the shortages became "so dire" over the Christmas period when the Health District sought to staff Goulburn's maternity ward with paramedics.
Several paramedics were given an induction and turned up for their first shift. However their union 'pulled the pin' on the idea and it never went ahead. Nevertheless, Ms Watts said paramedics did help with staffing at Yass Hospital over the break.
"It's a scary thought," she said.
"Paramedics are great but they are not registered to work in a very specialised setting like maternity. I know nurses...believe it is fundamentally wrong.
"It highlights how desperate the Local Health District is to get people to work and how bad the situation is within NSW Health."
The Health District had not responded at the time of publication to The Post's questions posed earlier last week about these claims.
Ms Watts said maternity and paediatrics staff were placed under added pressure when the two units were being co-located in the new hospital before Christmas.
She said this transition occurred without a nurse unit manager in place and the wards were short staffed.
"It is one thing to move patients from one area to the other but to not have someone saying what goes where...It was all a bit of a mess and the staff were pretty stressed," she said.
"My understanding is that management was quite frantic to fill the (nurse unit management) gap."
The Association is renewing its calls for restoration of clear staff to patient ratios. Currently, staffing is based on nurse hours per patient day, which the state government describes as "more flexible."
But general secretary Brett Holmes said recently that mandated ratios would ensure safe patient care in a system "already strained by record patient numbers and fatigued workers."
Ms Watts said nursing hours had increased in Goulburn's medical and surgical wards but it was insufficient.
"We are still very much fighting for the ratios because Association believes it is the only thing that will fix the staffing issues across NSW," she said.
Do you have something to say about this issue? Send a letter to the editor. Click here for the Goulburn Post
We also depend on subscription revenue to support our journalism. If you are able, please subscribe here. If you are already a subscriber, thank you for your support.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.