Raising the bar on nursing – July 2005

While working to address the inadequacies and problems in our health system, we also celebrate the outstanding achievements and commitment of the nursing profession.

One of the challenges we face as, an organization committed to improving the nursing profession, is finding a balance between highlighting the inadequacies and problems in our health system and celebrating and promoting the many rewarding aspects of nursing.

We need to be proud of the very good job we do as nurses and tell other people about it so they will come back to the profession.

In this edition of The Lamp we continue the debate about what needs to be done to fix the nursing shortage. We tackle the problems that devalue the profession but also celebrate the highly skilled and valuable roles nurses play in our health system.

Our Public health. There’s no fix without nurses campaign has started with a pleasing result that has delivered a good pay increase and improved conditions for public hospital nurses. We have also achieved good pay increases in aged care and private hospitals. These gains will help make nursing a more attractive job option.

But it is just the start of longer campaigns to which we are committed. The NSWNA will be at the forefront in the fight for extra funding for our health system and for the education of more nurses to address the chronic nurse shortages. We want the right skills mix available in our wards and workloads that are manageable and reasonable. And we want nurses to be better represented in decisions about the health system. We will also continue our campaign for a Fair Share for Aged Care, which I have no doubt will need to focus on retaining conditions long and hard fought for in this sector.

I have just attended the Canadian Federation of Nursing Unions’ biennial conference and have had the opportunity to see what problems and issues Canadian nurses are facing. There are similar themes in Canada to Australia: nurse shortages, tough workloads, pressures on the health system including long waiting lists and attacks on universal health care.

It brought home to me that many of the problems nurses face are global but that we have to fight hard to solve them locally.

We have much to learn from one another. For their part, Canadian nurses were very interested in our public hospitals reasonable workloads award clause as an employment instrument.

And we have much to learn from them. Canadians are experiencing serious attacks on their public medicare system with private health providers eager to cross the border from the USA. Many doctors are willing to open up private hospitals and surgical clinics. All are promising that, by enhancing the private health system, they will resolve the public hospital waiting lists.

What is clear to me from my overseas observations is that in Australia, Canada and Britain – countries with universal medicare systems – health expenditure as a percentage of GDP is far lower than countries like the USA with a system dominated by private health care. Universal public health is a better and more cost-effective system.

I’d like to thank members who participated in the public hospital pay campaign to ensure a better outcome to what the government had offered.

It is now important that we protect these conditions against any clawbacks the federal government may be planning with their proposed IR changes. We must be vigilant that any restructure of the NSW health system does not undermine our gains, that the promised reallocation of resources towards clinical care occurs and the loss of administrative support does not impinge on the work of nurses.