Empowered by community support for ratios

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Tamworth for lampTamworth members were empowered by the response they received from the community to their message that rural patients and nurses deserve ratios.

RN Jodie Gream occasionally stops at a couple of the tiny townships along the New England Highway during the long drive from her home in Tamworth to Sydney.

When she decided to visit them all on her last trip, to spread the message about the need for nurse-to-patient ratios in country hospitals, she was overwhelmed by the reaction.

“I thought it would be a great opportunity to distribute our petitions to communities along the highway. The response was wonderful – most people were keen to give support,” she said. “A common response was, ‘We see how busy the local nurses are, we know you guys care about what you do, and we’ll get behind you’.”

Jodie stopped at every settlement between Tamworth and Singleton, calling in at pubs, general stores and visitor information centres.

So many people wanted to talk about the issue that the normal six-hour journey took 10 hours.

At Murrurundi, the staff at the information centre photocopied 50 petition sheets. Tiny Wallabadah, population 229, gathered 120 signatures. Jodie collected some of the signed petitions three days later on her drive home to Tamworth. She asked local branches of the NSWNMA to pick up from those communities she did not have time to revisit. The tally was around 1200 signatures.

The union branch at Tamworth Hospital has formed a committee to organise their campaign to improve ratios.

Acting branch secretary Jill Telfer said the committee mapped the hospital to identify activists in each ward who could be asked to assist.

The committee also drew up a list of members of the public who had offered support, including 20 business owners who offered to display petitions on their premises.

Jill said she and another nurse got 100% support when they walked from shop to shop to ask businesses to back the nurses.

“Quite a few people were aware of the issue because of the union’s TV advertisements, which have had a good effect.”

Jill said the petition process had boosted the number of nurses engaged in the campaign.

“We need many more nurses involved so we can get more people in the community involved and onside, which we think will be the key to winning this campaign.

“We need to come up with ideas for actions that deliver quick results in the short term, so that more people will be encouraged to get involved.”

Branch president Matthew Cartan organised a table at Big W, staffed by eight nurses over six hours. Jodie Gream said 745 people signed petitions on the day.

“We weren’t allowed to tout for signatures inside the shopping centre, people had to approach our table,” Jodie said. “At first people thought we were after money and avoided us, so we bought some art paper and made signs explaining what we were doing.

“After that the community responded beautifully. I wish every nurse could have been at Big W because the public response was empowering.

“I’m really glad the union is giving country nurses the opportunity to be heard.

“There are about 600 union members at Tamworth Hospital and if every one of us collected just 24 signatures we would have 14,400 messages of support to show the politicians in Sydney.”