The Health Minister’s announcement of more nurse educators was warmly received at Annual Conference. Delegates were less enthusiastic about the governments intransigence on extending and improving ratios.
“This year we are allocating 60 new CSO positions which will be dedicated to community health and community mental health.”
Health Minister Jillian Skinner used the opportunity of her address to the NSWNMA Annual Conference to announce initiatives that will increase the number of Clinical Nurse Educators and Clinical Nurse Specialists in the public health system.
“I recognise that we need to be constantly seeking new ways to support, develop and grow our staff,” she said. “In that spirit I am extremely pleased to announce today some additional support for our nursing staff in rural hospitals, community health and community mental health.
“I am announcing an additional 40 Clinical Nurse Educators/Clinical Nurse Specialists will be funded this year, specifically targeted to supply our small-to-medium rural facilities (Peer Group C, D and F3 facilities). This is in addition to the 80 positions already funded this year, and most importantly in addition to the 275 such positions we committed to over our first term.”
Mrs Skinner said she recognised “that rural hospitals do not always have the level of access to professional infrastructure and support that might be available in metropolitan and major regional centres”.
She also announced extra resources for the community health sector including 60 Clinical Support Officers “to help relieve the burden on community nursing staff from paper work and other non-clinical work.
“I am pleased to tell you that at least 45 of the 115 Clinical Nurse Educators/Clinical Nurse Specialists Grade 2 earmarked for 2014/15, as part of the government’s four-year commitment, will be specifically allocated to community health and community mental health services.
“Recognising that community health and community mental health did not receive specific funding for these positions as part of the changes following the Garling Inquiry, this year we are allocating 60 new CSO positions which will be dedicated to community health and community mental health.”
The Minister said she agreed that patient safety was paramount in the public health system and appreciated the efforts of nurses and midwives.
“My priority as health minister is patient safety and I am pleased that you also share this priority for the patients of New South Wales. I am committed to putting the patient first in everything that we do.
“I am grateful every day for the hard work and dedication of those who work in our health system and ensure safety for our patients.”
Testy exchange over ratios claim
When responding to questions from the floor, there were sharp differences of opinion between Minister Skinner and delegates with respect to the Association’s public health system pay and conditions claim.
Kerry Rodgers from Nepean asked when the government was going to negotiate in good faith around the improvement and extension of ratios.
Jillian Skinner: “I take exception to the claim that the ministry is not in negotiation with the union.”
Kerry Rodgers: “A discussion is not a negotiation.”
Jillian Skinner: “Well, I’m just trying to clarify this. There is a regular ongoing meeting between the union and the ministry to discuss this and all workforce matters. So that’s the answer to that.”
Brett Holmes: “Minister, I am happy to assure you that I have discussed with the delegates the fact that we are having what we call discussions.
“We haven’t had negotiations in this agreement because the government set the parameters around what it thought was negotiations i.e. ‘that’s the wage cost, that’s the wage outcome and nothing more can be done to extend anything beyond that unless nurses pay for it themselves’.
“So the discussions we’ve had have obviously been listened to by the Ministry of Health and I’m very glad to hear that a number of the things that were discussed with us have resulted in announcements today.
“But I think there is a very clear difference between being in real discussions or negotiations around award matters and having discussions that are outside the parameters of award negotiations.”
Kerry also took issue with the Minister’s public denials that ratios exist in New South Wales.
Kerry Rodgers: “If you would look at clause 53 of our award, the ratios and the Nursing Hours Per Patient Day can be expressed as an equivalent.
“I think you’re just prevaricating here, as you are over the issue of whether it’s a discussion or a negotiation. And I’m sorry, but a good faith negotiation does not commence with the government saying, ‘what are you going to give up so that we will give you something else?’.
Jillian Skinner: “You are quite right, the award says that Nursing Hours Per Patient Day can be expressed as an equivalent ratio. This was included in the award at the request of the Association in 2010 to provide a comparison only between Nursing Hours Per Patient Day and the equivalent ratio. The average number of hours can be expressed as an equivalent, but it is an average, not a fixed ratio for each shift.”
Some other questions asked of the Minister
Luke Marks, Orange Base Hospital branch: Why won‘t you, Minister, agree to support guaranteed award-based staffing levels for emergency departments? This would go a long way in improving patient outcomes and safe patient care.
Minister Skinner: There is a mechanism to address the increased demand in emergency departments from a day-to-day, hour-to-hour, minute-by-minute arrangement [which] is better addressed by the more flexible workloads pattern arrangements that are made at the hospital level.
Fiona Deegan, Mona Vale Hospital branch: Can you, Minister, guarantee a private operator of your proposed new Northern Beaches Hospital will have the same nursing hours system applied in the same way as existing public hospitals of the same Peer Group and ward types, not for two to five years, but forever?
Minister Skinner: The outline of our commitment to staffing was made at the announcement of the expressions of interest request and that would be that we would require the new operator to offer employment to the existing staff on their current positions without interview for a period of five years with all award and salary provisions intact.
Karen Fernance, Bankstown Hospital branch: Ms Skinner, can you give us assurances that services that should be supplied by our government will not be privatised? And what happens to the local community when the private partners are just not interested, like at Bankstown wanting a cath lab?
Minister Skinner: Watch this space in relation to the cath lab because the cardiologist raised it with me personally and I have taken it up. In most of the cases where there has been private sector involvement in hospital services, and I am thinking particularly of the imaging services I discovered recently at Port Macquarie that’s being extended to the network of hospitals there, it’s providing a very high quality, much respected service. I can’t imagine they would pull back from that, but in the event they did, they would be picked up again by the public sector because it was such a critical issue to the wellbeing of patients. I understand that.
To read the full transcript of the Minister’s Q and As with delegates visit the NSWNMA website.
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