Staffing improvements in new Ramsay agreement

No ratios this time, but there are still significant staffing improvements and a five per cent pay rise over two years. 

As The Lamp goes to print and after a year of widespread consultation with staff followed by tough negotiations with the employer, a new enterprise agreement is about to go to Ramsay nurses and midwives for a vote.

While the goal of ratios has not yet been achieved there are still significant staffing improvements, pay rises without trade-offs or contingencies and an upgrade in conditions.

There was a 2.5 per cent increase in pay and allowances paid in July 2018. There will be a further 2.5 per cent increase from July 2019.

There are a number of tools to enforce safer staffing at Ramsay hospitals including:

  • stronger recognition of professional standards and obligations
  • on-call to access staff for emergencies not to support routine theatre lists
  • replacement of leave absences with equivalent skill level
  • criteria for in-charge of hospital and ward/unit for a patient load and current supernumerary arrangements protected
  • dedicated staff for ‘Specials’
  • protection for new grads who can now refuse to be In-Charge.

NSWNMA General Secretary Brett Holmes says it was disappointing that Ramsay would not agree to ratios but acknowledged the agreement still delivered “a lot of progress” on safer staffing.

“Ramsay refused to agree to ratios and ACORN standards for safe patient care. But we have been here before. It took many years of resolute campaigning to win ratios in the public sector and we are still fighting hard to get improvements there,” he said.

“We will continue to push for ratios in private hospitals including Ramsay because we know they are vital for our patients’ safety and care.”

Brett says it also took strong pressure from members and tough bargaining to get an acceptable pay offer on the table.

Ramsay outraged members when they initially tied the amount of the second year increase to an unknown federal election outcome and a potential change in private health insurance policy.

The company’s accounts show that Ramsay is highly profitable with a seven per cent increase in profits for the year and according to ceo Craig McNally, is performing well despite industry headwinds.

Ramsay has also just consolidated its position as one of the world’s largest and most profitable private hospital groups with the purchase of a European healthcare provider, Capio, for $1.3 billion.

It was clear to the bargaining team, Brett says, that Ramsay could afford to pay its staff properly.

“Eventually, after our members held firm, Ramsay offered 2.5 per cent per annum with no strings attached.”

Member action key to moving the employer

The new enterprise agreement is the culmination of sustained workplace activity by NSWNMA members across the spectrum of Ramsay facilities in NSW.

Over 1100 Ramsay staff filled out “safe staffing messages”, which were given to the Ramsay Healthcare Australia CEO, Danny Sims, outlining shocking and consistent experiences where safe patient care had been compromised.

Hundreds of Ramsay theatre nurses participated in an audit that compared their staffing levels with ACORN standards – widely accepted as the national benchmark for safety and quality care by perioperative nurses.

The results were alarming: 77 per cent reported they did not have enough staff for breaks; 33 per cent said that staffing levels compromised patient safety.

Fifty-six per cent of nurses in recovery reported that patient safety was compromised due to inadequate staffing, especially for patients requiring airway support and for paediatric patients.

Nearly 800 nurses and midwives signed a petition in support of increased rates for ENs. 

A good platform for next time

Kerrie Harrington, who works in theatres at Kareena Private and was part of the bargaining committee, says although ratios weren’t achieved this time a solid platform has been laid to continue that fight.

“I’ve spoken to some people who were disappointed we didn’t get ratios.

“But having sat in over 12 months of meetings and heard what the company started off by saying I thought we did a great job and we got far more than I thought we would when we started out.  I came away from the final draft optimistic that we’ll be able to achieve even more in the next agreement.”

She says she is also buoyed by the growth of interest in the union in Ramsay facilities and that too will help achieve improvements when the next agreement talks start in 12 months.

“This campaign has built our branch base up. People are becoming more involved. More people have joined the union. People are more motivated and want to fight for the things we want incorporated in to the agreement,” she said.

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