What Labor has done

The NSW Government has begun to implement some initiatives that have done much to improve conditions for nurses and increase retention of the nursing workforce.

Strategies aimed at improving retention have resulted in greater participation of registered and enrolled nurses in the workforce, with an overall growth in workforce across all sectors in NSW of 1.6%.

Wages and conditions are now protected

NSW public health system nurses are the best paid in Australia following several successful NSWNA wage campaigns. The NSW Labor government has consistently agreed to fund whatever wage decision was awarded by the NSW Industrial Relations Commission.

Between 2000 and 2007 nurses will have received a 47.3% increase in base pay.

They have won some valuable conditions that have improved their working lives:

  • a legally enforceable commitment to  reasonable workloads;
  • groundbreaking 14 weeks’ paid maternity leave;
  • monetary recognition of nurses with postgraduate qualifications; and
  • improved union delegate rights at work.

More training places for nurses

The Labor government has increased the number of enrolled nurses being educated from 900 to 1,200 in 2006 with a 21% increase in the number of enrolled and trainee nurses employed since 2001-2002.

The planned increases in nurse training numbers will not only improve supply of new nurses but, over time, will help to rebalance the age of the nursing workforce and ameliorate the effects of the large numbers of nurses predicted to retire over the next five years.

Improved retention of existing workforce

The NSW Labor Government has implemented a number of initiatives that have improved conditions for nurses and increased retention of the nursing workforce, particularly in regard to workloads and relief on family pressures:

  • There are now over 40,500 nurses working in our public hospitals – a record according to the health department;
  • In the past four years, the public health sector gained 5,588 nurses (although around half of these are working part-time hours). Nurse numbers have increased by an average 4% per year for the past five years;
  • Turnover declined from 16 to 14%;
  • In the past two years, over 1,143 overseas qualified nurses and midwives have been recruited;
  • 1,469 nurses who left nursing have come back through the Nursing Reconnect program. This includes more than 400 across rural NSW.

The workloads clause is an important innovation

In 2003, a commitment that nurses have a right to a reasonable and manageable workload was inserted into the public health system nurses’ award conditions.

This led to the implementation of a workloads computer program used by frontline nursing managers which, for the first time, provides a framework to measure what is a safe and reasonable workload for nurses and patients in general hospital wards.

Further guides to assist in determining nursing care levels in specialties such as emergency and community nursing and midwifery are underway.

Better workforce planning

Meaningful and accurate workforce data is critical for appropriate workforce planning and the management of nursing resources. The NSW Labor Government committed almost $1.2 million to independent research on the Nursing Skillmix and Workloads Study.

The NSWNA has been critical of the NSW Labor Government over the outcomes for nurse management during the AHS restructure and its resistance to our pay and conditions claims. However, the ability to take those disputes to an independent umpire in the NSW industrial relations commission is now at risk from a change in government.

Other Labor health initiatives

  • Created new after hours GP clinics in hospital emergency departments to reduce waiting times.
  • Introduced a $2 billion package to help the mentally ill and people with disabilities.
  • Reduced waiting lists – the Iemma government claims that since January 2005 there has been a 99% reduction in the number of patients waiting more than 12 months for elective surgery and an 80% reduction in the number waiting more than one month for urgent planned surgery.

Message from Morris Iemma to nurses

Improving public services is the first priority of my Government, and health care is a top priority. Improving these services can only happen by backing the hardworking staff of our health system to the hilt.

My Government is also committed to opening after hours GP clinics in our hospitals to reduce emergency department waiting times. This will take some of the pressure off staff in these departments.

We’ll roll out new nursing positions, ongoing educational opportunities, new facilities and improved conditions if re-elected.

The details will be announced in my health policy launch and will be available on my website www.morrisiemma.com.au.

800 scholarships will be available for enrolled nurses to become registered nurses.

250 scholarships will be available for rural midwifery services – 125 for existing midwives and 125 to attract new midwives.

There will be a new professional development program for our 800 Nurse Unit Managers.

We will continue with our work on new models of care in acute, mental health, and community care settings to expand the diagnosis and treatment role of nurses.

The NSW public health system now sets the benchmark for nurses’ pay and conditions. Rates of pay have gone up, with another increase of 4% due on 1 July this year; we have provided more flexible work arrangements; we’re making real progress on reasonable work loads in accordance with your award; maternity leave has been enhanced; and there are many professional development opportunities, with study leave and scholarships to back them.

As a testimony to these commitments, we now employ over 41,000 nurses in the public health system. There are an additional 6,800 positions filled by those who have come back, or have been recruited since 2003.

In contrast, Peter Debnam will sell out nurses and the staff that support you. Mr Debnam will sack 20,000 public sector staff, impacting on one in seven nurses, teachers and police. Even if he confines himself to not replacing so-called “backroom” staff, imagine the impact on your daily tasks with less administrative staff.

The NSW public health system also provides protection from the Howard Government’s WorkChoices legislation. The Oppposition supports Howard’s IR laws and will bow to demands to remove our state protections from the public health system.

Finally, I want to thank you all for your great work, and for your dedication to public service in New South Wales. I look forward to supporting you in that work for another four years.  To see the complete set of my election commitments go to the web at www.morrisiemma.com.au

The Hon. Morris Iemma, MP Premier of New South Wales