It’s time to take on the State Government – November 2010

Nurses want ratios and the public thinks they already exist. The main obstacle is a Government afraid to make the necessary bold move to save our health system. It is time to take it on. The future of our public health system and nursing depends on it.

Nurses have been patient and reasonable. Our Memorandum of Understanding expired four months ago and we have constructively engaged in extensive talks with NSW Health for months.

Our claim is not a greedy grab based on wishful thinking. It has been arrived at after years of careful consideration and analysis of the problems of the health system and how they can be rectified.

In our opinion mandatory nurse-to-patient ratios are a key starting point in reforming the NSW public health system. Politicians, the media and the public easily fall into the trap of believing that if more money is put into capital works and the creation of beds, the system’s problems will be solved. This is understandable. Clinicians know from long personal experience that without enough experienced staff with the right skills the creation of extra beds will not solve the problems.
It seems the key arguments against ratios are the cost and the assertion that there just aren’t enough experienced nurses out there.

Nurses are there and will return if conditions improve
The most recent Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) figures show that the number of RNs ‘not looking for work’ in NSW was 11,000 compared to 3,000 in Victoria. We believe the reason for this difference is the existence of ratios in Victoria, which make the profession more attractive to work in. NSW has 52% of all nurses nationally who are registered but not looking for work in nursing. There are over 7,000 nurses out there who could be back in the system but don’t want to be. This is an indictment on the current conditions of work for NSW nurses.

Also, there are many graduate nurses who haven’t been able to get employment in public hospitals. In 2010, 2,749 students are expected to graduate but NSW Health is only offering 1,700 positions in the public health system. Considering the dire situation of our public hospitals and the importance of RNs in delivering safe patient care this is scandalous.

In Victoria, experienced nurses returned to the profession in their droves once ratios were introduced – 2,650 within the first year.

The Victorian experience is instructive, too, when it comes to the cost of funding ratios. Victoria has funded ratios for 10 years without negatively impacting on the State’s finances. If Victoria can afford it, so can NSW.

This year the Federal Government committed to pump an extra $7 billion into public health. The money is there. What is lacking is political will and the right set of priorities.

The responsible thing to do now is act
The most powerful argument for ratios is that they will deliver safer patient care and this drives our determination to achieve them.

As The Lamp goes to print, the State Government’s position is a categorical No to ratios. We will continue to meet NSW Health and advance what we believe is a compelling case for the introduction of mandatory nurse-to-patient ratios. This is the responsible approach we have shown all along. But the Government’s position is unlikely to change without action on our part.

Over the next month, we will be asking you to stand together as we apply pressure in support of our claim. It will be difficult and will require determination on our part. Every nurse in the public health system will need to play a part. I urge you to talk to your colleagues and convince them that we all need to act together.

The future of our public health system and nursing is in the balance. The responsible thing to do now the Government refuses to move is to take action in the interests of patient care.

It’s time to take on the State Government.