Nationals are letting down their constituents

Editorialmar2012July 2013

National Party MPs should be fighting tooth and nail to get a better health deal for their country areas. Instead they are rolling over to their government’s own spin, that people in rural New South Wales don’t need safer patient care delivered by better nursing hours or ratios.

Nurses and midwives were prominent and vocal outside the 2013 NSW National Party conference held in Bathurst on Friday and Saturday 14-15 June.

Extending and improving mandated minimum nurse-to-patient ratios to rural hospitals is a key component of our 2013 Public Health System campaign. The Association strongly believes country people are entitled to health care as good as that delivered to patients in metropolitan areas, particularly when it comes to nursing care that can be delivered in situations where medical and other health support is in short supply.

We are doing our bit to see that happens and have allocated considerable resources to fighting for better patient care in the bush.

One would think that the National Party would be a natural ally for us in this campaign.

Sadly, the response we got from National MPs at their conference was far from impressive.

Present in Bathurst were nursing and midwifery representatives from 16 of the 19 National Party-held state electorates, each keen to brief their local MP on the issues and developments in the campaign. These nurses and midwives are totally committed to ensuring regional and rural hospitals are treated equally with the big Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong hospitals.

Formal invitations to a briefing were issued to the 16 MPs, but only three responded. Andrew Fraser (Coffs Harbour) stopped to talk to his constituent, but later went on radio to say that the whole campaign was about union bosses wanting a conflict with the state government.

We can’t tar all National members with the same brush. There were many grassroots party members at the conference who were effusive in their praise for what members are trying to achieve and who pledged their support.

But they were the victims of wilful deception by their party leadership when the issue was discussed at the conference.

Party leaders such as Andrew Stoner and Melinda Pavey (the Parliamentary Secretary for Regional Health) continue to peddle inaccurate information about our campaign and the state of nurse numbers in New South Wales.

The National Party and the government continue to claim credit for recruiting 4000 nurses since the election. This is disingenuous. When pressed this 4000 becomes 2700 Full Time Equivalents. Of these, 1580 of the 2700 nurses were won by the NSWNMA’s 2010 campaign, which was signed off by the previous Labor government.

In an information sheet presented at the conference Melinda Pavey used the failure of the previous Labor government to agree to nurse-to-patient ratios in community nursing, emergency departments OR a further increase in clinical Nurse Educators as an excuse for the current state government not to agree to improved patient safety.

Furthermore the National Party and the government criticise Labor for not signing up for ratios and claim that “ratios” do not apply in the NSW Health System. This is bizarre and patently false. The previous government did sign up to ratios, albeit after a tough campaign waged by this union. A formula for allocating extra nurses expressed in both nursing-hours-per-patient-day and ratios exists within the award. We have never disputed the existence of “nursing-hours-per-patient-day” but NHPPD can clearly be translated into ratios in the award.

Putting semantics to the side, what is clear is that the O’Farrell Government has waged a war to roll back the NSW public sector, with the exception of nurses, teachers and police from its first day in office, and the National Party is prepared to back them to the hilt even at the expense of its core constituents.

No one should forget that the improvements to patient safety, offered by our current ratios claim, can only be delivered via a political decision by this government.