Canberra nurses and midwives are being forced to neglect some of their patients' care because of unrealistic time pressures and unachievable deadlines, the sector's union says.
The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation last month surveyed 110 of its public sector ACT members, in response to industry-wide reports that staff were increasingly distressed and overworked.
The results that came back highlighted several areas of concern for nurses and midwives working across Canberra Health Services and Calvary Public Hospital Bruce.
At the top of the list and on the verge of requiring "urgent" action was "role overload"; a factor that federation ACT branch secretary Matthew Daniel explained was particularly "worrying".
"What this refers to, 'role overload', is not surprising: it's working long hours, [to] unachievable deadlines, [and] unrealistic time pressures," Mr Daniel said.
"The thing that worries nurses the most in this category - this is what the survey suggests and I know from our membership this is absolutely true - [is] that because of the time pressures, there is a need to neglect some cares because they have too much to do.
"That's a real worry."
Mr Daniel said the survey suggested nurses and midwives could be being put in "emotionally disturbing situations" that were outside the day-to-day stresses they dealt with.
"It can be those occasions where you see patients in distress [and] you might want to provide a higher level of emotional support," he said.
"You know they're in distress, but you can't do anything about it because of the other demands.
"You don't have time to try and relieve that distress of your patients and that gets transferred onto you as a healthcare worker."
Mr Daniel said the survey showed a number of nurses and midwives were considering taking sick leave because of their levels of distress. He estimated there was only about 10 nurses and midwives who'd been set aside in Canberra Health Services to cover sick leave.
"The sick leave is running between 20 and 40 per day," he said.
"Canberra Health Services is finally now starting to put in some mechanisms that might start to address shortfalls, but it's been a long time coming and I'm talking about years."
Mr Daniel said the survey showed nurses and midwives were also concerned about "role conflict", which meant they were being asked to do jobs that they felt were outside their designated duties.
They wanted better consultation, a greater sense of control over their work, and procedural justice.
"We know that there are a range of reports ... that's not in question," Mr Daniel said.
"But the problem is, we need to be more proactive.
"We can't leave nurses and midwives shattered and then pick up the pieces, we should be trying to manage these situations so we don't get these sorts of results."
Mr Daniel said there were a few good things that came out of the survey, including that nurses and midwives were generally clear about their roles, and strongly supported their co-workers.
"I suspect that that has kept some of the results that we've got back from being in the high category requiring urgent attention," he said.
"We're seeing our results in the high, moderate area, which requires attention, and I suspect that co-worker support is perhaps leading to a higher level of resilience."
An ACT Health spokesman said it was yet to receive a copy of the survey findings, as was Canberra Health Services and Calvary Public.
He said the leadership teams of all three organisations had "an absolute commitment to improving workplace culture and safety for all staff".
"All three organisations are working to progress recommendations from the culture review, this includes working closely with stakeholders and union representatives," the spokesman said.
"[We] always seek to work consultatively with staff and to provide a safe working environment and we look forward to working with staff and their representatives to address concerns raised in the survey."
Respondents to the survey included staff from the Centenary Hospital for Women and Children.
Canberra nursing and midwifery managers were also members of the union, and Mr Daniel said that - outside of the survey - they were in considerable distress because of the demands that were being placed on them.