Working with the community for positive change

Nurses, midwives and the community all have a common interest in improving the public health system.

 For some time now pressure has been building in maternity services throughout NSW due to a significant shortage of midwives in our major hospitals.

Recently there were 28 midwife vacancies at Westmead, Wollongong had just under 10, Royal North Shore Hospital 16 and Blacktown Hospital 23.

Midwives working in these units are constantly stretched and this creates a situation that is a lot less than optimal for the mothers and babies who depend on their care.

Because there are shortages of midwives in post-natal areas mothers and babies are being discharged as soon as possible. This means there is a risk that mothers are not getting the assistance they need to establish breast feeding and to avoid complications that can lead to mothers returning to hospital if their baby is dehydrated and unwell.

NSW Health has been claiming publicly that there is no significant shortage of midwives, that there are merely “challenges” in some districts due to population growth.

This complacent analysis jars strongly with the real life experience of midwives on the ground. They are telling the Association that there are not enough midwives to deliver the care to be able to adequately support the mothers and babies they have responsibility for.

The intense workloads that midwives are working under often compound the problem. Working extra shifts – often double shifts – has led some midwives to reduce the number of hours they work in order to manage this pressure. Some seek alternative employment. In many cases vacancies are being filled by non-midwifery staff.

The Association is very concerned about how these vacancies and the subsequent stress they put on maternity services impact on the quality of care for mothers and babies.

In post-natal wards it is imperative that the mother can successfully breastfeed and their baby is well fed, that they can go home safely and won’t suffer from complications.

Our concerns about the state of maternity services are shared by many mothers who use these services and who can see for themselves that midwife numbers are frequently inadequate.

In this issue of The Lamp we talk to mothers from the NSW south coast who have formed their own group – Better Birthing Illawarra – to lobby the local health district for improved maternity services. 

Through admirable persistence this group has established regular meetings with the chief 
executive and have also met with local MPs.

The group supports our campaign to include babies when calculating Midwife to patient numbers and has raised the need for more staff at meetings with the hospital executive.

Like us, they want to “hold the executive to account and improve the service with more staff and models of care that work in line with what the community wants”.

Nurses and midwives should take heart that we have such strong and influential support from members of the community who, like us, have seen and understand what is happening in our maternity services.

In our campaign for better ratios we need to build and nourish our relationships with such like-minded people in the community. It will be critical to the success of our campaign.

Also in this issue of The Lamp we talk to an energetic group of aged care nurses on the NSW north coast who are taking our campaign for ratios in aged care to their community.

They have been holding stalls in shopping centres, engaging local MPs and spreading our message 
through local media.

I understand how many nurses in aged care find it difficult to put their head above the parapet in their workplace. The aged care nurses who have thrown themselves into this sort of community campaigning have found it a safe and rewarding way to improve conditions in aged care.

I would urge you to get involved in this engagement with the community and politicians so we can make aged care a safer and better environment for elder Australians.