Undeterred by grey skies, thousands of nurses and midwives walked off the job for 24-hours today to participate in another statewide strike, urging the NSW government to heed warnings of the dire staffing crisis inside public hospitals and health services.
For the second time in six weeks, 5,000 vocal nurses and midwives chanted their way down Macquarie Street to deliver a message to the NSW government, while thousands more turned out to 27 regional rallies, demanding nurse-to-patient ratios, improved maternity staffing and fair pay.
NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association (NSWNMA) members rallied in Albury, Armidale, Batemans Bay, Bathurst, Blayney, Broken Hill, Coffs Harbour, Cooma, Cowra, Dubbo, Goulburn, Griffith, Inverell, Manning (Taree), Narrabri, Newcastle, Orange, Port Macquarie, Sydney, Tamworth, Tomaree, Trangie, Tweed Heads, Wagga Wagga, Warren, Wollongong, Yass.
Outside parliament, NSWNMA General Secretary, Brett Holmes, told the crowd the pressures they were under could not be sustained, particularly as the winter surge edged closer.
“Rolling internal staffing emergencies indicate just how much pressure our public health system continues to be under. It is far from coping and it is far from gold standard,” Mr Holmes said.
“It’s imperative we see change. The NSW government must listen to your cries for help and they must give you confidence that there’s a reason to stay in your profession of nursing or midwifery, otherwise we’ll continue to see too many of you leave.
“People in NSW deserve the benefit of safe staffing ratios, just like they have in Victoria, Queensland, the Australian Capital Territory, and recently committed to in South Australia. The NSW government must appreciate the value of people’s lives before our state falls further behind.”
NSWNMA Assistant General Secretary, Shaye Candish, said members were sick of excessive workloads and overtime, missed breaks and the heartbreaking decisions of rationing care between patients when constantly working short staffed.
“We are angry and we want solutions! We are facing a generation of nurses and midwives who have experienced such severe staffing shortages and extreme workloads that they are considering their futures in this profession. Many are leaving and some will have lasting trauma that stays with them,” said Ms Candish.
“Our members don’t take strike action lightly and we committed to leave life-preserving staffing behind.”
NSWNMA Warren Hospital Branch Secretary, Sarah Webb, travelled from the Central West to highlight the dangerous conditions and unsafe staffing in rural and regional areas.
“We are burnt out. We are at breaking point. We are just trying to survive shift by shift,” Miss Webb told the Sydney crowd.
“We are forgotten, we are isolated and we are unsupported. Our junior staff are scared. We are forced to make life and death decisions every single day. This government is failing us, they are failing to listen and they are failing to act.”
NSWNMA Campbelltown Hospital Branch member and midwife, Nichole Flegg, described the ongoing strain in maternity services and the need for a better skill mix of staff.
“Senior, experienced midwives are leaving the health system at a rate of knots due to the unsustainable working conditions we are all experiencing. This leaves a poor skill mix, further increasing the stress on senior staff,” Ms Flegg said.
“On a bad day it can be 1:12 (one midwife to 12 mothers) with one assistant in midwifery or an enrolled nurse. But if you think these ratios are shocking, then remember that in reality, these numbers are doubled [because] in these numbers, babies are not included.”
NSWNMA President, O’Bray Smith, reiterated calls for urgent action by the Premier and confirmed members supported further strikes until demands for shift by shift nursing and midwifery ratios were addressed.
“We will continue to come out here and stand up for the safety of our patients because we won’t ever turn our backs on the people of NSW. We have integrity and a conscience,” said Ms Smith.
More than 180 NSWNMA branches voted in favour of 24-hour statewide strike action which will conclude at 7am tomorrow.
The NSWNMA again called on the Premier and Health Minister to urgently commence negotiations on the implementation of nursing and midwifery staffing ratios to be delivered on every shift, not just on average.
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