Monash Health; the tip of the iceberg

It seems there is now a flood of reports and studies all pointing to the fact that there is an over-reliance on unpaid work in order to keep vital clinical services like pathology functioning in public hospitals.

It’s quite simple: there is a shortage of medical scientists in Victoria.

It’s a shortage that is affecting the entire country and it’s one that the Victorian government knew was coming since 2001. But despite the years of the Union pointing out the shortage, pointing out the extreme over reliance on unpaid work, the massive explosion in workloads; the harm of privatisation and the cuts to the scientific workforce, the Victorian Government continues to think everything is fine.

Take the current situation at Monash Health.

Through independent research, and a thorough in-depth review, it has been shown quite clearly and without equivocation that there needs to be another 30 scientists employed to ease workloads and ensure the highest standard of patient safety is maintained. Despite the hard evidence, Monash Health went to the Fair Work Commission and said that they had never agreed that there was a shortage or that they would employ more scientists.

Just this week there has been more reporting about the huge workloads and expectations to do unpaid work in the health sector. What’s happening at Monash Health is only the tip of the iceberg.

Across the entire health sector there are severe shortages of medical scientists and the expectation that medical scientists will keep doing more work without additional staff is finally being challenged. And rightly so since medical scientists are living with the ridiculous expectation by hospital managements that they will do unpaid work which is in effect wage theft.

There’s also the lack of respect for medical scientists and the contribution they make to our health system. There’s the inescapable sense, fostered by hospital managements, that you’re not a professional unless you’re working ridiculous hours and getting through ridiculously large workloads. Plus there’s the added pressure of treating doctors ringing furiously about delayed results. And if you’re suffering a workplace injury as a result, management doesn’t seem to care and don’t seek to backfill vacancies. They just expect everyone else to pick up the additional work.

With all the research pointing to the crisis facing medical pathology laboratories in Victoria, you’d expect that public hospitals’ managements and their boards would be feverishly working hard to secure the funding needed to avert this crisis. You’d also expect the Victorian Government, whose agencies have undertaken the research pointing to the crisis, would be more proactive in averting the crisis. But what we find is the exact opposite. We have public hospitals’ managements and the Victorian Government wringing their hands and claiming there isn’t enough funding to properly protect the health and well-being of scientists, which by extension means they also don’t have the funding to properly protect patient safety. We’re told that allied health is vital but we’re never given the funding needed or the respect that is deserved; all we’re given are excuses about why funding is not available. But they expect the work to done regardless of the damage it’s doing to scientists or the harm that may befall a patient.

That’s why we’re fighting so hard at Monash Health to not only expose the crisis facing pathology but to address the gross under-staffing of medical pathology laboratories.

So what now?

  • Members at Monash Health are urged to keep going and remain firm on your actions to date – do not accept extra shifts or overtime – continue taking your breaks and leaving on time and so on. We know all this is having an effect so don’t stop!
  • Report your concerns about occupational health and safety via email to Kevin Ericksen and send the Union a copy too
  • Talk to your OH&S reps about action you can take to address the dangerous workloads
  • Where necessary put in a Riskman report since it’s vital we report all hazards through formal channels

Most importantly, don’t back down from your right to a safe work environment. Monash Health’s strategy is to continue to deny there are issues and to tell the government that everything is fine.

Monash Health’s management is relying on the fact that concern for patient safety is so high that you’ll compromise your health and safety and do unpaid work. And this is not just the experience at Monash Health, this is an invasive workplace culture across medical pathology laboratories in the public and private health sectors.

Please stand with members at Monash Health and send your messages of support to enquiry[at] or leave them on our Facebook page.

Paul Elliott

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