Politics trumps maternity care

Abbott takes aim at states with hospital boards plan.

Why are so many pregnant women forced to go to hospital emergency departments rather than being cared for by alternative maternity-based systems?

This obvious question was ignored by politicians who joined in the federal-state slanging match after Ms Jana Horska miscarried in the toilets at Royal North Shore Hospital after waiting for two hours to be seen.

Funding a new model of care for pregnant women was apparently not even on the radar of the federal Health Minister, Tony Abbott.

He seized upon Ms Horska’s tragedy – and other stories of neglected patients at NSW hospital emergency departments – to score points against Labor state government-run health systems on the eve of a federal election.

Abbott announced the Howard government would force state governments to re-establish local hospital boards, or lose federal funding.

In contrast to Abbott’s opportunism, the NSW Nurses’ Association put forward suggestions to reduce pressure on emergency departments during talks with the NSW Director-General of Health, Debora Picone.

Association General Secretary, Brett Holmes, said EDs were not the best places to deal with most maternity cases.

‘Pregnancy is a life event, not a disease. As midwives have been saying for years, it needs to be managed differently and all its up and downs, including miscarriage, should be dealt with in a maternity-based system, not the accident and medical emergency system,’ Brett said.

‘Developing and properly funding such an approach will take pressure off the general hospital system and provide a more focused service for pregnant women and their families.’

Brett said there was also an urgent need to get registered nurses and GPs back into aged care to reduce hospital readmissions.

‘Too many people get stuck in hospitals because of the shortage of aged care beds,’ he pointed out.

Prue Power, Executive Director of the Australian Hospitals and Healthcare Association, said Abbott’s plan ‘would be going back a couple of decades in our attempts to create an integrated system’.

Brett Holmes agreed, saying Australia needed a better integrated approach to health care, not a plan to disconnect individual hospitals from the broader health system.

‘The fact is, for a variety of reasons not every hospital can provide every service. It is not in the interests of stronger health care to have individual hospital administrators deluding themselves and their local communities that they can.

‘Setting up 750 hospital boards competing for staff and resources would only worsen the current inequities in the health system, as those in wealthier areas would be more likely to attract funds and staff.’

Chance to meddle with nurses’ work conditions

The NSWNA fears that the Howard government, if re-elected, will use proposed hospital boards to meddle in the employment conditions of nurses and other hospital staff.

‘The Liberals would take the opportunity to force WorkChoices and AWAs on public hospital nurses, just as the government has used funding negotiations to force AWAs on other sectors such as higher education,’ NSWNA General Secretary Brett Holmes said.

He said if the Howard government succeeded in forcing its industrial relations laws onto public hospital nurses, it would spell disaster for the already severe nurse shortage.

‘Look at the low-wage culture and heavy workloads that have been encouraged in aged care by the Howard government’s funding and IR policies.

‘Aged care nurses in NSW earn up to $120 a week less than their colleagues in other sectors.

‘Between 1995 and 2004 there was a 21% fall in the number of nurses working in aged care, despite the number of aged care residents increasing by 23% in the same period.’