Nurse-to-patient ratios key in vote to condemn NSW Government failure

Nurses and midwives across NSW yesterday voted to condemn the State Government’s 7-year failure to deliver better, more transparent nurse-to-patient ratios, which is the only way to guarantee safer patient care.

An overwhelming majority of NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association (NSWNMA) Public Health System Branches endorsed a resolution which also contained a commitment to stand up for patients because ratios are a matter of life or death.

The final result showed 172 Branches in favour of campaigning for better, more transparent ratios.

In its claim submitted to the government earlier this year, the NSWNMA stressed the need for better, more transparent ratios to ensure a safe level of care is maintained in our public hospitals amid population growth and an increase in complex care needs.

General Secretary of the NSWNMA, Brett Holmes, said nurses and midwives were extremely disappointed the NSW government had ignored their plea to safeguard the future of the public health system.

“Our members have been telling the government for years about the systemic understaffing in NSW public hospitals,” Mr Holmes said.

“NSWNMA Branches have sent a clear message that the number of nurses and midwives are inadequate to meet demand and ratios are the only solution.

“Delivering better, more transparent ratios across the state will guarantee there is enough nurses and midwives to give patients the best possible care.”

While a majority voted in favour of the 2.5% pay increase in the Award, 19 Branches have expressed their absolute anger towards the Government by rejecting the offer.

“Those Branches are furious at the NSW Government’s refusal to guarantee better patient care and their failure to recognize the hard work nurses and midwives do in understaffed wards and units.

“The NSWNMA is fiercely democratic and the outcome of the vote yesterday puts the Government on notice. Nurses and midwives are ready to fight for their patients and demand safe staffing levels.

NSWNMA Branches also committed to continue raising community and politicians’ awareness about how better ratios can stop the understaffing and risks to patient safety.

“The NSW Government has delivered a number of budget surpluses yet patient care continues to be ignored. The 950 more nurses promised in the recent Budget is a temporary fix, directed to future service growth in our health system. Nurses and midwives want a commitment from the Government to guarantee safe staffing levels on every shift in every hospital.

“For 7 years, the Government has refused to negotiate genuine Award improvements without trade-offs and nurses and midwives have had enough.

“We know ratios save lives. International research backs the need for nurse-to-patient ratios – why is this Government still resisting something guaranteed to improve patient care? Only nurse-to-patient ratios can deliver the best outcome for the people of NSW.

“If mandated staffing systems are not in place, we risk losing highly qualified and experienced nursing and midwifery staff to stress and burnout. They’re some of our most valued workers who do the best they can in impossible circumstances.

“A proper ratios system is needed in all specialties and all hospitals. Your postcode should not define your level of care.”

In 2011, the NSWNMA won some mandated nurse-to-patient ratios, yet since then the NSW Government has not delivered a second phase of ratios to extend them to rural and regional hospitals or into specialty areas, such as emergency departments, critical care units or paediatrics.

“Association research with members has now revealed that at least 40,000 hours of nurse time has been withheld from patients in the last year in just 13 hospitals, compared to what was legally required under the Award. The staffing system as it currently stands isn’t working. Better, more transparent ratios provided on every shift are needed to deliver safe patient care,” Mr Holmes said.

“We remain open to talks with the Government.”

The NSWNMA’s Ratios Claim is asking for:

  • 1 nurse to 3 patients in emergency departments, paediatric wards and critical care units
  • a minimum of 1 nurse to 4 patients in rural and regional hospital wards
  • an improvement of ratios in mental health and rehabilitation units
  • babies to be counted as patients in post-natal maternity staffing

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