We won’t tolerate a two-tier health system

Editorialmar2012April 2013

Nurses, like other working people, need money to pay their bills and take care of their families – yet members have chosen to prioritise more nurses over more pay for our 2013 public health system campaign.

The reason most of us took on nursing or midwifery as our profession was because we put patient safety and the care of our patients above all else.

It’s what we signed up for. How well we care for the patients on our wards and in the community is how we judge ourselves.

I know you can’t do it properly when there are not enough nurses or midwives for the patients in your care. Many nurses run all shift from one person to another to another, to care for those waiting for pain relief, or to change position, or for a bedpan, or for more complex care. These are people in distress, who don’t understand why you’ve taken so long to get to them. Similarly, your community patients are often left to wait for care in their own homes, or in crowded community health centres, simply because there is not enough time.

It’s intolerable. It’s intolerable for them and intolerable for us. And we won’t tolerate it anymore.

Patients are waiting too long because the government has been told it is okay to have a regime where some wards in some hospitals have improved nurse-to-patient ratios while the rest do not.

We won improvements in 2011 and now it is time for the O’Farrell Government to extend those improvements right across New South Wales. A two-tier system where nurses are supported and staffed to provide first rate care in some hospitals, mainly in the cities, while their colleagues in others, mainly rural areas, are not, is unacceptable. Nurses in country hospitals cannot physically provide the same level of care to patients with the same illness as their city colleagues.

It makes country nurses despair. And it makes them want to leave. Because they can’t bear being unable to provide care to a standard Australians are entitled to expect. Thankfully most haven’t left, yet, but we need to give them the support that better ratios can provide.

I am proud of the position taken by nurses and midwives in this campaign. When the government threw its paltry 2.5% offer on the table, other public sector workers told them what to do with it and went to the High Court to contest it. It’s easy to understand why.

NSW nurses and midwives have taken another route. And that is, to send the state government a message that we simply must have enough nurses and midwives to give all patients, in all wards, in all hospitals, the same world class care they now get in just some hospitals.

Barry O’Farrell – give us that. Give us enough nurses to do our jobs in hospitals and in the community and fulfill our vocation of caring for our sick and injured fellow citizens. Give us that and give it to us in writing so that it is guaranteed.

Aged care compact a great opportunity to improve wages

It has taken four years of sustained effort in the Because We Care campaign but aged care nurses are now poised to reap the rewards of their perseverance, commitment and hard work (see page 20).

The aged care compact has concluded and $1.2 billion is now available to flow into the wages of aged care nurses and aged care workers.

This is an incredible achievement and the Gillard Government should be acknowledged for its role. It takes political courage for a federal government to tie funding for a sector to the participation of employers in enterprise agreements. Implicit in this approach is the recognition of the role of unions in improving the working lives of their members.

However, it does highlight one qualifier to this big win. These pay increases will not be automatic. They require an enterprise agreement at each workplace above 50 beds and an organised union presence.

But if aged care nurses do get organised, the money is there to boost their pay. Employers will be unable to avoid their responsibility to pass on the increased funding in wage improvements.
That is what the government funding is clearly targeted at.