Our first shift-by-shift ratios victory

A well-organised, hard-working branch along with an enlightened employer has delivered an agreement with NSW’s first shift-by-shift ratios.

Hats off to our Macquarie University Hospital branch. After months and months of negotiations and perseverance as part of the bargaining team they have achieved a memorable enterprise agreement which delivers shift-by-shift ratios for the first time in NSW (see pp 8-11).

This is a major breakthrough – not just for the staff at Macquarie – but for nurses and midwives throughout the state.

Management at Macquarie recognised our arguments that implementing such ratios are better for patient care. Interestingly, they are also good for the hospital’s business model.

Macquarie competes with a number of other private hospitals within a small radius and this agreement will allow it to attract the high quality staff and provide them with the resources they need to deliver high quality care that will make the hospital competitive in a crowded market. 

This is a salient lesson for other private hospitals, those running our public hospital system as well as providers in aged care. Ratios should be seen as an investment that will enhance the quality of health delivery rather than as an expense.

There are other notable achievements in the Macquarie University Hospital agreement: a good pay rise, 12 weeks paid parental leave, five days paid family and domestic violence leave and improved qualification and on-call allowances.

Our members at Macquarie believe this will give them a better work-life balance. The employer will get a more contented and motivated workforce. Patients will get safe, high quality care.

This is a win-win outcome that we would like to see other employers pursue.

Aged care needs a sea change

Enlightened isn’t how you would describe many of the large aged care providers. Blinkered would be more apt. Blinkered by the bottom line of their financials.

You would think that after the barrage of recent negative media coverage that has ranged from the ABC’s Four Corners to the Daily Telegraph over the poor staffing, poor care and outlandish profiteering that plagues the aged care sector that providers would take stock and show some humility and remorse.

But not so. As we outline in this month’s Lamp some of the country’s biggest providers continue to pursue a business model that is underpinned by staff cuts despite the clear evidence of what the consequences of that will be.

As the NSWNMA and ANMF have been saying for some time, now vindicated by media exposure, these cuts inevitably lead to poor care.

Taxpayers would have good reason to feel aggrieved knowing that billions of dollars in government money going into aged care is being channelled into profits and executive bonuses rather than for care for Australia’s elderly.

This money needs to be accounted for more vigorously. The last federal Labor government, in its final days, tied extra government funding to wage increases for aged care workers. Unfortunately, the incoming Abbott government – in one of its first acts on gaining office – reversed this innovative policy.

But the idea that aged care providers should be made accountable for how government funding is allocated remains a strong one.

The media revelations and the ongoing behaviour of aged care employers give little confidence that providers will allocate this government funding responsibly towards more staff, better skill mix and adequate care without being forced to do so.

There is a mountain of empirical evidence that shows ratios enhance safe patient care. Nurse to resident ratios enforced in law should be a vital cog in ensuring accountability in the aged care sector.