Enough is enough

Nurses and midwives have staged big rallies at Blacktown and John Hunter hospitals against chronic staffing shortages. These are powerful messages that the Berejiklian government must listen to.

Nurses and midwives have always been very cautious about taking action at their workplaces unless there are serious reasons for doing so.

Last month over 100 nurses and midwives at Blacktown and this month another 200 at John Hunter Hospital in Newcastle rallied outside their facilities when long-simmering frustrations with local management boiled over.

After the Association insisted on access to rosters and other staffing information at John Hunter our analysis of the data revealed that the hospital had been understaffed by a staggering 7000 hours below minimum requirements over a seven-month period. Belmont Hospital was also well below the minimum staffing requirements.

It is little wonder that management’s failure to address this chronic understaffing has led to a rebellion. Enough is enough.

It is not only nurses and midwives who are unhappy. A Newcastle Herald editorial articulated the community anger at the shortchanging of so many hours of nursing care. And the paper was perceptive in pointing out the risk
of losing experienced nurses and the “scars” that could leave on the local health system.

The NSW Industrial Relations Commission weighed in too, with a scathing assessment of Belmont Hospital management’s failure to meet the legal award requirement of nursing hours.

Commissioner Stanton pointed out that “if it (had been) on the front page of The Newcastle Herald and The Sydney Morning Herald” the Saturday before then management would have already solved the problem.

He handed out strong recommendations for the full replacement of absences and made it clear those replacements should be like-for-like.

Blacktown and John Hunter hospitals are not spot fires. They are more like the canary in the coal mine. The Association is getting reports of the same pressures throughout the state and through-out the public health system.

The Berijiklian government and NSW Health must heed these warnings and listen to those at the frontline who understand the problems and the solutions.

Ratios are central to resolving this issue in the long term. They must be updated, expanded and improved in parallel with the increasing demands on the public health system.

We await a government savvy enough to realise this: one that will overcome the neglect and act with the courage and will necessary to keep our public health system world class.

The rules must change

The ACTU and unions have been campaigning to “change the rules” in Australia. This means better and stronger workplace protections that would allow workers to push for well deserved pay increases. It also means corporations and rich individuals paying their fair share of tax.

Last month we found an unlikely ally. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) – for decades a key global driver of neoliberal economics – had a significant change of heart when it named inequality in developed nations
as a key challenge of our time (see pp 16-17).

The IMF explicitly recognised low wage growth as the major problem facing all major advanced economies. This echoes calls that the Australian union movement has been making for some time.

Even the Treasurer Scott Morrison has admitted that low wage growth is inhibiting the Australian economy as has the head of the Treasury John Fraser.

Also, if we are serious about tackling inequality, the IMF says, then the rich must pay more tax. It demolished the argument that making them do so would have a negative impact on economic growth.

Interestingly, the IMF said more investment in health and education would “reduce income inequality over the medium term, address persistent poverty over generations, enhance social mobility and ultimately promote sustainable and inclusive growth”.

All of which makes the policies of the Turnbull government, with its support for cuts in penalty rates and its relentless slashing of health and education budgets, unfathomable and unconscionable. ■