Attracting nurses back to the system

Editorialaug2011August 2011

Our nurse-to-patient ratios campaign delivered funding for around 1,400 extra nurses for our Public Health System. Now, we need to attract nurses back into the system.

Organising for safe patient care was the theme of our annual conference just concluded at Randwick racecourse. It is a theme that encapsulates the challenge that now lies before us in the Public Health System: implementing the ratios package and making it work so we are able to deliver better patient care in a safer environment.

We are aware we will have to fight all the way to have the ratios put in place properly.

There has been a slow uptake to the first tranche of positions that have become available.

First and foremost, this is an indictment of the feeble efforts by NSW Health to advertise the positions.

The funding has been made available by Treasury and we expect the Department to pull out all the stops to attract nurses back to the profession.

The NSWNA is committed to doing what we can to make this happen. We have just started TV advertising to inform the public that our nurse-to-patient ratios campaign was successful in winning the funding for more nurses and that this should translate into better patient care.

The ads also aim to alert nurses who have left the profession that there are a large number of new jobs available and the implementation of the ratios will make our Public Health System a better place to work.

Barry O’Farrell’s new laws will not help to bring nurses back

Attracting nurses back into the profession should be a high priority for the State Government as well as NSW Health, but the difficulty in finding nurses is now complicated by Barry O’Farrell’s new IR laws.

Last month, we reported in The Lamp that the new Liberal Government has virtually legislated a wage freeze well below the rate of inflation and stripped the power of the NSW IR Commission to arbitrate fairly and independently in wage negotiations. This effectively gives all power to management during pay campaigns.

Since then, the Government has introduced regulations that give it the power to unilaterally roll back public sector work conditions that can include penalty rates, annual leave loading and study leave, among many others (see p 22).

We are not saying the Government will do these things automatically, but it has given itself the muscle to do so if it wants to, at whim.

This is an unnecessary and unhealthy appropriation of power. It is alarming considering the track record of Liberal governments on industrial relations.

It does raise an important question: how will this deeply ideological agenda improve the quality of our public services? In particular, how will a wage freeze and a possible diminution of conditions alleviate the long-standing shortage of nurses that has been a key problem for our Public Health System?

There are other unnecessary obstacles for nurses who want to return to nursing. The Association has been made aware of several cases of nurses who have been out of the profession for a little over five years to have a family, and whose pathway back to the workplace has been blocked by the dogmatic application of ‘recency of practice’ requirements coupled with exorbitant course costs.

The State Government, NSW Health and all other bodies responsible for the delivery of quality healthcare need to prioritise and facilitate the return of nurses to the profession so we can finally get our Public Health System back on track.