A locum program that makes the world of difference

Mary Smeaton - Nurse Manager, Yass Hospital
Pictured: Lauri Buckingham and Mary Smeaton

As the Nurse Unit Manager for Yass Hospital in the Southern NSW Local Health District, I manage and work clinically in our Emergency Department (ED). I also manage the roster for our doctors which is a combination of both Visiting Medical officers (VMO) and Locums. We have no General Practioner (GP) or VMO doctors working at Yass Hospital so the main medical constant is our nursing staff.

Our nurses are the principal drivers of patient care and clinical excellence in our facility. This is a big responsibility, but they are up to the challenge and work very hard to keep the standards high. We work well with our VMOs and locums who come from quite far afield. Many of the locums return on a regular basis as they appreciate the quality of work set by our nursing staff.

Yass Hospital is in the Yass Valley Shire which is sixty kilometres north-northwest from Canberra and 280 kilometres southwest from Sydney, just off the Hume Highway. We are a rural area with fine wool grazing, fine wine and food specialists. There are recreational areas such as Burrinjuck Dam for water sports and Wee Jasper for caving. Yass has a historic heritage dating back to the 1830’s with many historic buildings to see.

Yass Shire has a population of 16,500 and covers just under 400,000 hectares. It is one of the few growing rural areas with three percent growth per annum and a large number of younger families who work in Canberra but choose to live the rural lifestyle to bring up their families. As a result, Yass Shire is the second fastest growing shire in the state with an increasingly younger age group. Despite this, we care for a wide spread of age groups with two large aged care facilities in town. We have a very busy ED seeing, on average, 500 patients per month and a 10 bed acute ward.

Our nursing staffing profile is very lean and we have very limited access to casual nurses which means it can be difficult to get nursing staff replaced for annual leave. As a consequence some of our nurses have accumulated a lot of annual leave hours that must be taken so our nurses can have a break and recharge their batteries. It also reduces the excess leave liability for the hospital. Our main area of support from NAHRLS is to get our nurses to take much needed annual leave.

We first heard about NAHRLS from another manager within our health area that had successfully used the locum program in the past. The team have always been exceptionally helpful and the registration process was easy. The only fees charged is the standard NSW Health pay rates and the NAHRLS program covers the rest which has made it possible for us to cover staff going on leave - a win/win situation.

For our hospital, this locum program makes the world of difference. We not only nurse our community, we live in it and face our patients and their relatives every day inside and outside the hospital. We are very visible and our community is very supportive and understanding of what a difficult job rural nursing can be.

This is particularly so when the hospital find it difficult to get relief staff. Rural nurses never let the hospital down - if someone is off sick, they pick up the extra shifts and their friends and family generally understand. We are also the ultimate nursing generalists and need to know a little about every type of patient condition. We face a great range of diagnoses.

Our locums have been excellent in supporting our rural nurses. They have picked up the local variabilities, fit in seamlessly with the staff and work as a team. Our team love having NAHRLS nurses as they are so easy to work with and understand the rural style of work. We have had NAHRLS nurses who are very happy to return to Yass, so I guess they like the team and enjoy working with us too!