Real chance for health reform – October 2007

Labor’s new health plan tackles the intractable problems in our health system and gives the Commonwealth a chance to bring about essential reform – putting an end to health being used as a political football.

As a foundation member of the Australian Health Care Reform Alliance, the NSWNA has always been committed to progressive health reform.

A key goal of this diverse group of health stakeholders has been to get state governments working cooperatively with the federal government in order to improve the health system.

For too long there has been a blame game and cost-shift-ing between state and federal governments which has left front-line staff, including nurses, trying to explain the irrational and the inexplicable anomalies in health delivery to patients and family.

Along with prominent health academics, policy experts and practitioners such as Professor John Dwyer, John Menadue and Professor Stephen Leeder, the NSWNA has been advocating health reform for many years.

After this long period of policy paralysis we see the ALP’s new policy (see page 22) as a breath of fresh air. Finally we have a political party with the courage to tackle the intractable problems in health and to invest the surpluses from a booming economy in an essential social service. It is what the Australian community has been crying out for.

This can be contrasted with John Howard’s announcement to deliver hospital-based training for enrolled nurses within 25 major public and private hospitals. This is not a plan for the future. It’s a distraction. It doesn’t even begin to deal with the consequences of the neglect of nurse education by his government during the past 11 years.

Labor has been prepared to look at the hard realities about health and has come up with a plan that initially enables cooperation between the state governments and the commonwealth a chance to bring about essential reform. But if this approach fails it is backed up with the ultimate measure of accountability – a takeover by the federal government of our public hospital system. We should do everything within our power to ensure a federal takeover is not necessary.

This federal election provides the voting public with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fix our public health system. While some nurses have understandable reservations about wall-to-wall governments of the same persuasion across the country, the flipside of that coin is that it will make easier the necessary state/federal government cooperation to fix our public health system. It could, thankfully, see the end of health being used as a political football along party political lines.

This union has been saying for some years there is no fix to the problems of our public health system without nurses. Labor is proposing a new National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission to develop a blueprint for a better health system. They have promised nurses a place at the table in this Commission. It is essential nurses have this voice and are listened to in the development of a long-term health reform plan for the nation.

We should acknowledge that Labor is the only political party that has previously committed to having a nurse at a senior commonwealth level to advise the federal government and the health department. They have made this commitment again at our own annual conference.

As a stakeholder in this reform process we will be unequivocal in our advocacy that the health workforce is critical to any long-term solution and improved workplace conditions are essential in order to recruit and retain nurses who are the backbone of the health system.

We’ve put aged care on the national agenda

Over the past month you may have noticed a TV advertising campaign in defence of nurses’ rights – particularly in aged care. The NSWNA has undertaken this campaign with other branches of the ANF in Queensland, Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory. Together, we are standing up for aged care nurses nationally and defending our health and aged care systems.

The campaign aims to highlight the wage gap between aged care nurses and public hospital nurses and the consequences of the federal government’s IR laws on nurses in aged care and the threat they pose to all nurses.