ABOUT 30 psychiatric nurses and mental health clinicians at Beechworth Health will stop work twice today as part of a statewide protest about stalled pay negotiations.
Health and Community Services Union state secretary Lloyd Williams said the stoppages would continue all month because the state government had failed to settle disputes about staffing, pay and conditions.
“The government is not interested in mental health or real negotiations,” Mr Williams said.
“Patient safety remains our No. 1 priority.”
Beechworth psychiatric nurse and union delegate Stuart Fisher said the two-hour stoppages would involve staff at Blackwood Cottage, the 15-bed aged- care centre for those with mental health needs, and The Willows, which accommodates 18 mental health patients.
He said the nurses’ claim for 16 per cent over three years was needed to match inflation and they feared government plans to cut shifts, break up shifts, or replace staff with those with less training would hit client care.
“We are not unrealistic in our claim,” he said.
“We are not here for stoppages, but negotiations have failed and this is almost a last stand.”
He said both centres would have a “skeleton” staff of a registered and enrolled nurses during the stoppages.
Mr Fisher, a psychiatric nurse for 35 years, said there was a need for more mental health care and for aged patients to have developed dementia.
“The prediction one in five adults will suffer a mental illness is not scaremongering,” he said.
“In Blackwood, we have patients who had never had a mental illness but dementia has caused behavioural aspects requiring specialist care.
“The Willows provides long-term rehabilitation for the mentally ill”.
Mr Fisher said he and many colleagues had worked in the mental health field for up to 30 years.
“The nature of our work is that clients must be treated with humanity and dignity.”
Staff will meet at Beechworth hospital this morning and this afternoon. Stoppages are planned at the Kerferd Unit at North-east Health, Wangaratta, on Sunday, April 22.