Shift-by-shift ratios are within our grasp

This state election is crucial if we want to win shift-by-shift, nurse-to-patient ratios across the entire public health system.

As The Lamp goes to print the NSW Labor leader Michael Daley has announced that if he is elected to government on 23 March he will move immediately to introduce 
shift-by-shift nurse to patient ratios throughout the NSW public health system.

Labor’s plan is comprehensive and incorporates the vast majority of claims we have been campaigning for over the last decade and more.

The strength of Labor’s plan is in the detail.

Labor has promised to staff our medical, surgical and paediatrics wards, our emergency departments and our postnatal maternity units using the ratios model.

This will require funding of an extra 5500 nurses and midwives over the next four years.

Labor had already agreed to extend 1:3 ratios into paediatrics and emergency departments and to bring regional staffing levels up to city levels. In themselves these were major improvements that would make an enormous difference to improving 
the system.

But now they have gone much further. They have promised to introduce 1:3 ratios in maternity wards, provide additional staff for specials in medical and surgical wards and make improvements in community health and community mental health. When there are uneven numbers in the calculation of ratios, the number of nurses rostered will be rounded up.

Labor’s plan should be music to the ears of all public health system nurses and midwives in this state. It is what we have campaigned so hard for, on behalf of our patients and our professions, for so long.

Michael Daley was gracious enough to say to an audience of Tweed health service members at the launch of his policy that: “I want to say to nurses and midwives – this is your win, this is your campaign.”

Numbers are transient, ratios are permanent

On the cusp of the NSW state election the Liberal-National Coalition has belatedly changed its position on nursing and midwifery numbers. They have promised to fund 5000 extra nurses and midwives over the next four years and we acknowledge that.

But, as welcome as the Government’s announcement is, it doesn’t go nearly far enough.

Nurses and midwives know from hard experience that management are manipulating the numbers to circumvent the provision of enough nurses to deliver safe care. We have seen that in hospital after hospital, across the state, over many years. We have seen patients missing out on thousands and thousands of hours of care they were entitled to.

That is why we stand by shift-by-shift ratios as the policy solution that will guarantee safe nurse to patient numbers. Labor now agrees.

Both Labor and the Liberal-National Coalition have come to this election with vastly improved policies about public health that have more nurses and midwives at their core.

That owes everything to the fantastic activism of nurses and midwives the length and breadth of the state over a long period of time as we have taken our knowledge and analysis of what is happening at the frontline to the NSW public.

Our campaign has established the undeniable fact that nurse-to-patient ratios saves lives and put it at the heart of health policy.

Wages, workers comp, aged care and privatisation are important too

There are other issues in this election that are important to us as clinicians and union members.

The wage freeze on public sector workers including nurses and midwives – now in place for eight years – has to end.

The workers’ compensation system that was so ruthlessly dismantled by this government when it first came to office has to be rebuilt so injured workers are given the support and afforded the respect they deserve.

NSW must have a requirement for nursing homes to have an RN on duty around the clock.

And last, but not least, we are totally opposed to the privatisation of our public health services.

For all of those members in aged care, private hospitals and elsewhere it is worth considering that improvements to our public health system are a personal benefit to everyone who may need care. Importantly, standards set in public health help win the argument for the same conditions elsewhere.

When it comes to voting on March 23 I would urge you to give a high priority to all these issues and how the respective party policies will impact on your jobs and the care we can deliver to our patients.

In particular I would urge you to consider what it would mean to finally have shift-by-shift ratios implemented in our public health system across our state.