Nurses’ rights at work NSWNA 61st Annual Conference

Over three lively and action-packed days, delegates received cutting-edge information from NSW Government representatives, and national and international experts on a range of political, health policy and nursing issues.

Mental health top priority

The Honourable Cherie Burton, NSW Minister Assisting the Minister for Health (Mental Health), explained the NSW Government’s plans to improve mental health services and recruit new mental health staff for NSW. Ensuring mental health services receive the appropriate focus and are not sidelined by other health services is a priority of the NSW Government, Ms Burton told delegates.

Big boost for NSW Health

In his presentation to Annual Conference, NSW Minister for Health John Hatzistergos, outlined the Government’s plans to improve health services in NSW. With a $11.7 billion allocation for health in its 2006/07 budget, the Government will provide more beds, more staff, more elective surgery, and new ways for people to access health services, with patients at the centre of health care, he said.

Terminator meets his match in California nurses

Deborah Burger from the California Nurses’ Association described to conference the imaginative and effective campaign run by her union to pressure California Governor Arnie Schwartzenegger to back off from blocking nurse/patient ratios.

‘We followed Arnie everywhere. Arnie has a history of groping women without their permission – we call him the Gropinator – which led to our banners saying “hands off our ratios”.

‘In Sacramento he shot off his mouth saying nurses were a special interest group and that he was “kicking our butt”.

‘Our patients were appalled at nurses being called a special interest group. That is an insult usually reserved for oil interests or for big business.’

Deborah said the campaign damaged Schwartzenegger’s credibility by exposing his fundraising connection with big business.

‘We took the campaign nationally. We used the internet. We had a website – We also had an ebay auction where we tried to sell Arnie but ebay pulled it saying, you can’t sell the Governor of California on ebay! We pointed out he’d already been bought and sold.’

Deborah said that because of the campaign people acknowledged the union’s leadership.

‘We formed alliances with teachers, firefighters and police who started supporting us. Arnie’s popularity plummeted. We not only raised awareness about the impact of his policies on nurses but we exposed his connections with big money.’

‘Finally he called off his effort to delay change in nurse-to-patient ratios.’

The power of nurses

Nursing is the most powerful, most respected profession in the world and we must use this power effectively, Linda Silas from the Canadian Nurses’ Union told delegates.

Linda said she was struck by the similarities in issues for nurses everywhere she travelled in the world.

‘The nursing shortage is an international issue. In Canada, 16,500 nurses are lost due to illness every year. Overtime has increased by 58%. We have to get more expertise into the system but the traditional policies for recruitment and retention don’t work anymore,’ she said.

‘As a nurses’ union, we have responsibilities to those working short each shift and a responsibility to patients. We certainly won’t cure the nursing shortages by replacing nurses with personal care assistants.’

Linda said it was important nurses recognise and use their political power.

‘We have to move to effect political action. We have to educate politicians and bring like-minded people to the forefront. You have to be non-partisan but not non-political. You’ve got to get involved,’ she said.

Vox pops

‘Overcrowding has a large impact on the workload of nurses working in mental health and causes a flow on effect. You feel like you’re always hosing down complaints, you don’t always get extra staff when needed, staff who are able to do overtime do so much they suffer burnout and the ability to attract new staff is an issue.’
Dave Bell, RN, James Fletcher Hospital

‘We need to pay nurses in the aged care sector the same as in the public sector in order to attract more staff and particularly to attract young people to the profession. The profile and image of working in aged care needs to be lifted.  I think that sometimes it is viewed as a second rate career to be a nurse in aged care.’
Debbie Urquhart, Booroongen Djugan Aboriginal Nursing Home

‘We’re concerned about losing senior nursing positions as a result of Area Health Service restructures and the impact that this will have on the retention of nurses and attracting young people to the profession. Removing nurses from senior management positions takes away our career paths and young people will stop seeing nursing as an attractive career option.’
Cheryl Johnstone, Elizabeth Lyons, and Mary-Louise White, Prince of Wales Hospital