2012: A big Year in Review

It has been another big year and in trying circumstances – but despite the obstacles nurses, midwives and their union made plenty of progress in 2012. The Lamp takes a look at some of the highlights.

NURSE-TO-PATIENT RATIOS

“I strongly believe that we need to raise community awareness about ratios. These are hard fought for changes to the public health system and the people of New South Wales should know how ratios improve the care they receive.” – Eleanor Romney RPA RN

Winning them was just the beginning! After the hard-fought win came the hard-fought implementation. The year started tardily, with Local Health Networks slow to meet targets set for the recruitment of nurses to fill vacancies for the new positions. But with sustained pressure from nurses, and with more than a little help from the community, by year’s end the implementation of nurse-to- patient ratios was well on track to the timetable set out in the Award.

Early in the year a powerful lesson came to us via our Victorian colleagues. Having fought tooth and nail for 10 years to win ratios, and fill them, they had to take to the barricades to defend them against a well-organised and sustained attack by the Victorian state government.

As the year came to an end the NSWNMA was laying the groundwork for the 2013 award campaign, in which improving and extending ratios will be a high priority.

INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS

“The underlying assumption is that injured workers are lazy or are fraudulently claiming higher workers compensation benefits. The Association utterly rejects this line of reasoning.” – NSWNMA General Secretary Brett Holmes

The O’Farrell Government carried on where it had left off in in 2011: rolling back the rights of New South Wales workers and maintaining their attack on the public service. Last year it was an institutionalised pay freeze at 2.5% for public sector workers, the emasculation of the Industrial Relations Commission and heavy penalties for unions, which, well, did their job.

This year the government’s main focus was an attack on the Workers Compensation scheme. Nurses and midwives were particularly angered by the abolition of cover for journeys to and from work, so the NSWNMA stepped in with its own insurance to cover such situations.

The government has also flagged that staffing arrangements within awards (nurses: read ratios), penalty rates and leave loadings remain in their hairline sights.

AGED CARE

“I’ve said very clearly to providers, we are not just going to provide additional funding to the system if we don’t have the confidence that the additional funding will go to wages.” – Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, Mark Butler

In May, the Because We Care campaign, conducted by the NSWNA and the ANF for three years, had a stunning victory with the announcement by the Gillard Government of a $3.7 billion aged care reform package.

The package foresaw a massive injection of funds into the sector from 2013. Importantly for aged care nurses, a key component of the package was $1.2 billion to address the wages gap, and training.

As with ratios, winning the funding was just the beginning. The big challenge will be ensuring that aged care providers honour the intent of the reform, and address the wages gap between the private and public health sector.

HISTORIC MOMENT FOR MIDWIVES

“The Association has been around now for 80 odd years and this is a significant, historical change.” – Jan Dilworth, midwife

History was made at the Association’s 2012 Annual Conference with a change in name to the NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association.

The name change was recognition of the evolution of the nursing and midwifery professions over the years. The Annual Conference – our policy making body – decided it was time to be more inclusive and reflect this modern reality in our name.

INTERNATIONAL

“The governor is now trying to remove 64,000 needy children from our state health care program. It’s been a year-long battle to get our human rights back but we’re not giving up.” – Jeff Weber, US psychiatric nurse

Australia may have come through the Global Financial Crisis relatively unscathed, with what, in retrospect, looks like an inspired economic intervention by the federal government.

Arrogant and profligate bankers may have been the cause of the crash but, as usual, it was workers throughout the world, particularly public sector workers, who bore the brunt of the financial meltdown.

In June we were alerted to a cautionary tale playing out in the US state of Wisconsin, where public employees, including nurses, were battling an extreme anti-union administration.

The British National Health Service has been under relentless attack this year, under the guise of “austerity economics”. More than 30,000 National Health Service workers have lost their jobs and the service has been opened up to sweeping privatisation.

Similar rollbacks on workers’ rights and health care funding have been taking place throughout Europe and the Americas during 2012.

NURSES AND CULTURE

“What a show to be involved in and what a night.”- Matthew House, London primary care liaison nurse

From the London Olympics to MasterChef, nurses, midwives and their families made their mark on popular culture this year.

Hundreds of British nurses danced their hearts out at the London 2012 Olympic opening ceremony, as part of a glittering tribute to the British National Health Service.

Westmead Children’s Hospital RN Amina Elshafei reached the top 12 on the television cooking show MasterChef, and RN and NSWNMA member Nia Beaman (and 56,000 colleagues) barracked for Nia’s daughter Prinnie, as she battled it out on the popular Channel 9 show The Voice.

ANF ADVERTISING

“It’s always good to have positive messages about nurses out there.” – RN Jenna Fanning, Westmead Children’s Hospital

The Australian Nursing Federation launched a national campaign promoting positive attitudes towards nurses, in August.

The campaign aims to address poor community perceptions and frustration with the health system, by building public support for nurses and putting pressure on political parties to improve conditions for nurses and midwives.