WA health officials have an urgent hearing in the Industrial Relations Commission today in a bid to end work bans by nurses.
They warn that lives are at risk because seriously ill patients are waiting too long to get beds.
Director-general of health Kim Snowball said yesterday the move not to staff one in five beds in most public hospital wards was hurting patients after just one day, particularly in emergency departments at Perth's big adult hospitals.
A meeting of 1000 nurses and midwives voted on Monday to effectively close the beds and cancel one in five elective surgeries, with exemptions for patients such as those who are critically ill and children.
But Mr Snowball said two critically ill patients had to wait in Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital's emergency department yesterday because they could not get a ward bed.
He said it was well documented that patients needing to be admitted to wards could die if they waited too long in emergency.
Mr Snowball said advice from the State Solicitor had confirmed he could not make a pay offer to nurses before the State election. The department would ask the IRC for an order to lift the bans immediately.
But Australian Nursing Federation secretary Mark Olson disputed Mr Snowball's claim that critically ill patients were being put at risk.
He said between 40 and 70 beds had closed at Royal Perth, Sir Charles Gairdner and Fremantle hospitals. "I say between those numbers because our members from time to time open up beds to admit patients who are considered to be emergencies who fit the guidelines," he said.
"No patients' lives will be put at risk during this campaign."
At Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital yesterday, public opinion was firmly behind the nurses.
After an X-ray was delayed four hours, Mike and Lucy Bridgen backed the nurses "100 per cent", saying they should get a lot more money because they worked hard.
Visiting a patient, Kevin Cooling agreed nurses should get a pay rise but disagreed with their actions.
"Don't they take a vow to look after patients like doctors," he said.