The local branch of the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association will continue its campaign over patient safety despite assurances at their annual conference.
Goulburn branch president Kate O’Neill said she was buoyed by addresses to last week’s conference in Sydney by Health Minister Brad Hazzard and Opposition Leader, Luke Foley.
“Mr Hazzard was a really good speaker and was very empathetic to supporting front line staff but he wouldn’t commit to a one to four nurse to patient ratio in the medical and surgical wards,” she said.
“He was aware that regional hospitals receive less nursing hours, per patient per day than other metropolitan hospitals.”
Mrs O’Neill and the union say this is unfair as a person with pneumonia in Goulburn is no less sick than a patient at Campbelltown. She describes it as “a postcode delivered health care system.” The Association has been campaigning on the issue for several years and has ramped up efforts in the lead-up to the March election.
Mrs O’Neill said Mr Hazzard agreed the arrangement was unfair and that he didn’t necessarily agree with it.
In a statement, Mr Hazzard said he wanted to continue discussions on how to achieve staffing needs throughout the various hospitals.
“We have a very big system and it’s a very complex system: 15 local health districts with 230 hospitals and multi-purpose services. To try and make sure that each and every one of those are following policies and agreements in the Awards is challenging. As a Minister it’s extremely challenging,” he said.
“I’ve indicated to the Ministry that they have to take a more active role in working with the LHDs to make sure that staffing arrangements are done in an open and honest way.
“Nurses are entitled to have the staff to do the job and that needs to be done in a transparent way. The Ministry takes on the role and responsibility to ensure the LHDs and individual hospitals are making sure staff are appropriately being employed.”
Mr Hazzard also spoke about diluted skill mix. This included situations where an enrolled nurse is rostered instead of a registered nurse. The union has also been campaigning on this point. He vowed to continue discussions with Association general secretary, Brett Holmes.
“He was happy to answer questions and he did seem sensitive to front line nurses doing it tough. There is burnout,” Mrs O’Neill said.
However, the Association wants mandated ratios.
Opposition leader Luke Foley also addressed the conference and committed to introducing shift by shift nurse to patient ratios in the 2019 award, if elected.
“I hear you. It’s time for safe staffing. We have a great public health system but we have to fight to keep it that way,” he told the conference.
Under the plan hundreds more nurses would be employed in ‘B’ and ‘C’ group hospitals throughout the state, lifting staffing levels up to those of ‘A’ group hospitals in metro areas. In addition, specialty areas, such as emergency departments and paediatric wards would have ratios of one to three, providing safer staffing to the areas Mr Foley said needed it most.
Mr Holmes welcomed the announcement.
“The commitment from NSW Labor is a giant leap in the right direction for patient safety. After eight years, nurses and midwives are finally being listened to,” Mr Holmes said.
“Under this system, the health of country communities will be made a priority and for the first time, emergency departments and other specialty areas will have a new, reliable ratios system with a guaranteed minimum ratio on every shift. This is a real breakthrough.”
Mrs O’Neill said she was she was very happy with Mr Foley’s commitment but recruitment remained a problem.
“It is an issue in Goulburn,” she said.
“The Local Health District is doing its best. It is advertising and we have a very supportive management structure which is willing to pay for those positions.”
But the branch is maintaining its campaign. Mrs O’Neill said it would be ideal if both parties committed to the ratios to support improved patient care.
“There’s plenty of evidence-based research saying it’s safer,” she said.
“We (the branch) have come up with a plan to engage the community on the issues we face at Goulburn Base. It affects the community and we’ll continue to talk to them around this issue. If they know about it they can make an informed decision.”
The Association has been campaigning on ratios since 2011, when some were mandated.