Exhausted nurses leaving the hospital in tears, at-risk patients going unchecked and bed block reaching unprecedented levels were just some of the reasons hundreds of Wagga's nurses walked off the job on Thursday.
The strike by the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association (NSWNMA) is the second in just two months, with members claiming their demands for fixed nurse-to-patient ratios and improved pay have been ignored by the state government.
Over 200 Wagga nurses participated in the 24-hour strike, marching through Bolton Park and Baylis Street before congregating outside Wagga Base Hospital with signs reading "we are not coping" and "ratios save lives".
Nurses like Roz Galvin shared horror stories of chronic understaffing piling pressure on staff and leaving patients with inadequate care.
"We were recently so understaffed that there was one patient who wanted to go to the toilet but we couldn't get to them in time," she said. "He panicked, got up on his own and then had a fall."
Mrs Galvin hadn't attended any other strike in her 50 years as a nurse but said the situation had escalated to a point where she had no other choice.
"This is the first time I have felt strong enough that I had to strike," she said. "Our post-grads are going home crying because they haven't got the support they need."
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Matt Rodgers has only been a nurse for two years and said the expectations being put on himself and other young staff is far beyond what he expected.
The pressure is already causing him to second guess whether or not nursing is a job he wants to continue long-term.
"I'm going home tired and going to sleep straight away every day which really isn't much of a life," he said. "You definitely start to think whether it is worth doing this, which is a shame because we definitely need nurses working long-term on the floor."
The demonstration in Wagga was just one of over 20 held across NSW, with nurses demanding the government increase their pay and put in place mandatory nurse-to-patient ratios.
They want a guarantee of one nurse to every four patients on most wards for each shift, with one-to-three in emergency and one-to-one in intensive care. They also want newborn babies to be counted towards patient numbers in maternity wards.
"We've been fighting for a long time for this," NSWNPA Wagga branch vice-president Karen Hart said. "All the empty platitudes of 'oh thanks' and calling us the 'heroes of the pandemic' are absolute rubbish."
Mrs Hart said the state government did not offer nurses any improvements following the previous statewide strike in February and she warned the demonstrations would continue until changes were made.
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