Nurses have vowed to halt some non-urgent surgery across Adelaide’s public hospitals unless the state government provides an urgent “circuit breaker” to ease overcrowding.

About 150 nurses rallied outside the Royal Adelaide Hospital on Monday as the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation began industrial action over the pressures on hospitals, particularly emergency departments.

More rallies will follow, with moves to stop some elective surgical procedures to start on Thursday.

Health Minister Stephen Wade insists a ruling from the South Australian Employment Tribunal blocks any action that would halt surgical procedures.

But federation state secretary Elizabeth Dabars said the minister had misunderstood the ruling and some low category operations could be halted.

“It is in the minister’s hands,” Ms Dabars told reporters on Monday.

“We have written to him today seeking he provide a meaningful response to the concerns raised by these nurses.


“Nurses don’t want to be put in this position, we don’t want to be taking action.”

“But if push comes to shove, then we will be stepping up the action and escalating it in the best interests of patients and their safety.

“In the absence of a circuit breaker, category three and below (operations) will be cancelled.”

But Mr Wade and South Australian chief nurse Jennifer Hurley said all patients could be assured that no surgeries would be cancelled as a result of industrial action.

“We just want to reassure the community that nurses are here for them and they will be able to have their elective surgery as scheduled,” Ms Hurley said.

Ambulance officers and hospital doctors have also raised concerns at the overcrowding, calling on the government to take urgent action.


The government said it had already moved to make an extra 50 beds available by moving some patients to country hospitals and some to private hospitals.

It said it was also continuing to work on medium to long-term solutions to the overcrowding problems.