The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ACT Branch) has criticised the ACT government for rejecting its call for two $3,000 support payments to recognise the work of nurses, midwives and carers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I was pretty disappointed on behalf of our members who have done it tough over the last two-and-a-half years of the pandemic,” ANMF (ACT Branch) Secretary Matthew Daniel said, in response to the decision.
“They’ve done everything that’s been asked of them. They’ve done extra shifts. They’ve changed workplaces. They’ve had to move around their own personal lives. It’s extraordinary that the ACT government hasn’t provided any sort of formal recognition, beyond thanks.”
In a letter sent to ACT Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith last month, the union appealed for an immediate initial payment of $3,000 to recognise the tireless efforts of nurses, midwives and assistants in nursing throughout the pandemic. It also called for a second $3,000 ‘retention’ payment, to be paid at the end of the 2022 winter period, to “prevent a further loss of nurses and midwives during the flu season”.
Nurses and midwives are at the heart of the public health system, the letter stated, and have been under enormous, unrelenting strain during the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite this, they continue to go “above and beyond” in leading the government’s response.
The union’s call for recognition and retention payments echoed similar bonuses recently handed down to NSW and Victorian public sector nurses and midwives.
Yet, in a bitter blow for the ACT’s nurses and midwives, the ACT government formally rejected the proposal earlier this month.
“They’re pretty disgusted in the government and very unhappy,” Mr Daniel said.
According to Mr Daniel, the ACT is currently in the grip of its worst period of the pandemic.
“We’ve got around 140 people in hospital with COVID, so that’s quite a number of beds,” he revealed.
“On top of that, we’ve got all the respiratory viruses that are floating around in addition to flu, and lower immunity to flu because people haven’t been exposed to respiratory bugs over the last few years.
“Mask wearing has reduced the impact of flu, but now that things are opening up and there’s less mask wearing, we’re seeing increased cases of flu and there appears to be lower vaccination rates than in the past.”
If approved, the $3,000 bonus payments would have given nurses and midwives due recognition for their hard work, and encouraged them to remain working within the public health system, Mr Daniel argued.
In a recent ANMF ACT survey of public sector members, 74% of respondents said they had considered leaving their current job, or the profession altogether, within the past 12 months. The survey also revealed high levels of psychological distress.
“It [the payment] would have been meaningful recognition that the government understands the pain and suffering that they’ve experienced during the pandemic,” Mr Daniel said.
“It would have been acknowledgement that the government gets it, that they hear the experiences of nurses and midwives.”
The ANMF (ACT Branch) will continue to lobby for recognition and support for nurses and midwives but doubts the government will act.
“The government’s keen to continue our discussions but we’ve been telling the government for many months, for probably at least the last 12 months, that they need to make some meaningful decisions that will alleviate the pressure on the health system and on nurses and midwives. But they’ve come to the table with absolutely nothing.”
Tomorrow, the ANMF (ACT Branch) and its members will hold a snap rally, outside Canberra Hospital, in a bid to show the government that recognising and respecting the nursing and midwifery workforce “must be more than just thanks”.
The union is calling for the government to develop, invest in, and facilitate a clear recovery plan for nurses and midwives, with a focus on wellbeing. Key pillars include substantial workforce planning; improvement to workplace safety, particularly meeting mandated minimum nurse/midwife-to-patient ratios; practical and effective wellbeing initiatives; and real improvements to workplace culture.
“Nurses, midwives and AINs in the public sector are fed-up with the lack of recognition they have received; they are exhausted and burnt out,” Mr Daniel said.