Regions put spotlight on ratios

Nurses in Goulburn have put health care at the top of the agenda for the state election on March 28.

Residents of the southern New South Wales city of Goulburn queued for the microphone at a well-attended public forum that voiced strong support for improved nurse-to-patient ratios.

Ratios and the future of Goulburn Base Hospital were the main focus of the three-hour meeting attended by more than 200 people.

The “Shine a Light on Health” forum was organised by the Goulburn branch of the NSWNMA, with support from Goulburn and District Unions.

Ninety nine per cent of respondents to an opinion survey distributed at the forum said they wanted their local Liberal MP, Pru Goward, to support improved staffing levels to bring Goulburn hospital into line with Sydney hospitals.

Medical and surgical wards in metropolitan hospitals are staffed according to six nursing hours per patient per day, but Peer Group C facilities such as Goulburn, 200km southwest of Sydney, get only five.

The NSWNMA branch invited election candidates to address the forum and asked them to sign a pledge committing to improved ratios for Peer Group C hospitals.

Labor candidate Ursula Stephens and Iain Fyfe of the Greens did so, but sitting Liberal member Pru Goward and the Christian Democrats’ Adrian Van Der Byl did not.

Jane Cotter, secretary of the NSWNMA Goulburn Base Hospital branch, says international research shows that increasing the amount of nursing care results in better health outcomes for patients.

Reputable studies also show that for every patient added to a nurse’s workload there is a seven per cent greater chance of the patient dying.

“We want to make sure the Goulburn community receives the attention it deserves at the upcoming state election and we’ll continue to advocate in the best interests of our patients,” Jane said.

NSWNMA General Secretary Brett Holmes told the forum nurses deserve to be able to do their job “without going home feeling guilty that they’ve short changed their patients”.

“A patient with pneumonia in Goulburn deserves the same amount of care as a patient in Sydney who has access to Royal North Shore and RPA hospitals,” he said.

“The difference in Goulburn is that it doesn’t have the back-up resources and nurses carry the load.”

Registered nurse Mary Walker asked Ms Goward why patients in Goulburn were worth less than those in the big cities, especially given recent statistics showing car accident victims were less likely to survive in a regional hospital than a metropolitan one.

The Goulburn Post noted that Ms Goward “riled some sections of the crowd when she questioned whether people were there to talk about patients and health care or industrial issues.”

Jane said Ms Goward appeared “rattled” by the size of the crowd and the level of criticism. “She was very much on the defensive.”

Ms Goward, who is Planning Minister and Minister for Women, told the forum: “I absolutely agree that as the clinical evidence becomes available that it’s better to do it this way than it is through the method that the hospital administration has adopted, if it is demonstrated that the ratio is a better way of providing the health care that people need and that it affects materially people’s recovery rates, the death rate and all the other things that go with being a better society and a healthier society, then I think it happens. But remember it depends on wealth.”

Goulburn branch president Rosemary Durbidge said the forum was “a good opportunity to put our case for the ratios we are fighting for.”

Of the 123 people who completed the branch’s opinion survey, 80 per cent did not believe Ms Goward was making health a priority in Goulburn.

In other survey results, 91 per cent answered “yes” to the question: “Are you concerned about the privatisation of health? That is, allowing private corporations to take over the running of public hospitals?”

Eighty six per cent answered no to the question: “In your experience, do you think that the public hospital in your area is adequately staffed with nursing and midwifery professionals?”

A new or upgraded hospital was the other main issue at the forum.

The government has commissioned a study to help decide whether to build a new hospital or upgrade the existing one.

Labor candidate Ursula Stephens said everyone knew the hospital was “obsolete, not fit for purpose and inefficient. You have to wonder why we are the only regional community in New South Wales that has not yet had a significant health upgrade.”

Goulburn branch member Shirley Benbow said members of the public at the forum had “overwhelmingly” commented on how under resourced the local hospital was.

“I’m really encouraged that the community of Goulburn is getting behind the local unions and really critiquing the politicians and asking them to put their money on the table,” she said.

Brett Holmes told the forum Goulburn residents needed to know: “What will your new hospital look like? Who will own it and operate it? Will it be a privately operated, privately funded hospital delivering some public services or will it be a public hospital delivered by the public for the public?

“The people of Goulburn want to know what is being planned for them into the future and are rightly concerned about their access to vital public health services.”

Jane Cotter said the branch was concerned that the government favoured full or partial privatisation of hospitals, as with Sydney’s Northern Beaches hospital.

“Privatisation is aimed at making a profit and in general we worry that if you have two beds, a private patient will be given priority over a Medicare covered one.”