More than 6,000 strike for ratios

Nurses and midwives at more than 190 public hospitals and community health services went on strike on 24 November and pledged to close hospital beds if the NSW Government does not meet the NSWNA demand for ratios.

More than 6,000 nurses and midwives walked off the job on Wednesday, 24 November 2010, and gathered at Sydney Olympic Park Sports Centre for the biggest meeting of NSWNA members ever held.

By 11am, the vast stadium had filled up with a sea of red, blue and white, with nurses and midwives sporting the now ubiquitous campaign t-shirts and waving hand-painted signs and placards. The atmosphere was electric. The passion nurses and midwives are feeling about safe patient care and the need for nurse-to-patient ratios was undeniable.

Members arrived at the stadium on ‘strike trains’ from Central and Lidcombe stations, and regional members from Goulburn, Orange, Coffs Harbour, Bega, Kempsey, Lismore, Wollongong, Tamworth, Dubbo, Hunter and the Blue Mountains boarded buses as early as 4am to attend this historic gathering.

While nurses gathered for the mass meeting at Olympic Park in Sydney, Branches in regional areas throughout NSW also organised activities to show their determination to win ratios.

Brett Holmes told members: ‘The resolve and courage shown by members today is a proud moment for the NSWNA and the nursing profession. Taking strike action is not something nurses and midwives do lightly. In fact, it’s been nine years since the NSWNA last went on strike. But the fight for ratios is the most important in living memory and the most serious action is required.

‘First and foremost nurses are advocates for our patients. As advocates we will do what it takes to protect them.’

NSWNA President Coral Levett took the stage and said, ‘We are deadly serious about this. This is just the start. We want the Premier, the Health Minister and the Director General of NSW Health Debora Picone to hear our message.’

The crowd’s response was several minutes of thunderous applause.

There to support NSW nurses and midwives were ANF Federal Secretary Lee Thomas, ANF Victorian Secretary Lisa Fitzpatrick, and Unions NSW Secretary Mark Lennon.

The NSWNA also received messages of support from the Californian Nurses Association; the AMA; Warren Anderson, whose daughter Vanessa paid the ultimate tragic price of a health system in crisis; the NSW Police Association; the Fire Brigade Employees Union; and the Queensland Nurses’ Union.

ANF Secretary Lee Thomas said the entire ANF was standing behind NSW nurses and midwives in their fight for ratios.

Nurses and midwives also recounted their recent experiences, which demonstrate the consequences of what happens when our public hospitals and services are not properly staffed.

Diane Gordon, RN, described chronic under-staffing in the coronary care unit at Liverpool Hospital, juggling critically ill patients and constantly prioritising which are most critical. Luke Marks, RN, described the untenable pressure caused by under-staffing at Orange Base Hospital Emergency Department. Vicki Meredith, midwife at St George Hospital, explained how one midwife can be caring simultaneously for four labouring women, and Jo Hensler spoke of the stress of being an EN responsible for observing 14 patients in Kempsey ED because not enough senior nurses are available.

Members walked off the job after the NSW Government refused the NSWNA claim for mandated ratios in medical, surgical, emergency, palliative care and rehabilitation wards, inpatient mental health units, and improvements in operating theatres and critical care areas, community health, and community mental health.

NSWNA General Secretary Brett Holmes said the NSWNA had attempted to negotiate many times with NSW Health over seven months but it had failed to respond meaningfully.

‘Mandated nurse-to-patient ratios were introduced in Victoria 10 years ago and have resulted in a safer environment for patients, have reduced nurse shortages and improved nurse retention rates.

‘Nurse ratios have been so successful in Victoria that the Victorian Labor Government has committed to expanding and improving them.

‘We may well have to send a message to the NSW Government at the ballot box in a few months,’ he said.

At the meeting, members unanimously voted to pass a resolution to start closing hospital beds from 7am on Wednesday, 1 December, if a constructive offer has not been received from the NSW Government.