The NSW Health Minister was grilled on safe staffing by the state’s nurses and midwives at their union’s annual delegates’ conference last week.
It came as the NSW Opposition promised nurses and midwives a new ratios system would be delivered if Labor was elected.
NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association (NSWNMA) members expressed distress to NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard from the floor at the union’s 73rd annual conference in Sydney. Delegates told of countless examples of current unsafe staffing levels impacting on patient care.
The current Nursing Hours per Patient Day( NHPPD) system was not working, Hornsby and Ku-ring-gai Hospital Branch President Michelle Rosentreter said.
“There are unrecognised missing nursing hours. The system is more concerned with meeting budget than clinical need. When will we have shift by shift nurse to patient ratios to prioritise patient care?”
Mental health services had reached crisis point, said a delegate from Cumberland Hospital.
“Mental health services are under stress and not meeting community demand. Mental health nurses have unsustainable workloads. We appreciate the extra nurses but we need it mandated in our award for nurse to patient ratios that deliver safe patient care.”
The Health Minister said the NSW government had spent $25 billion on health, just shy of one third of the entire state budget.
“We are spending a small fortune on health infrastructure. We have a very big system and it’s a very complex system. There are 15 local health districts and it has to be managed in a sensible, balanced way.
“I don’t want to mislead you. There are financial implications.”
Working conditions had now become unsafe for the majority,” said one delegate from Westmead Hospital.
“The NHPPD is being manipulated to make it look ok. Why don’t you look at the organisational structure of LHDs and trim it down there?” she asked the Minister.
The NSWNMA had given the Minister “ballyhoo” about safe staffing, he replied. He urged nurses and midwives not to forget about the caring aspect of their profession.
“We have to make sure the word caring is not lost.”
It was a comment that drew ire from the floor.
A delegate from Murwillumbah Hospital told the Health Minister that infrastructure was nothing without people.
“That kindness and care you speak about comes from people within that infrastructure. When we are short-staffed it’s the first thing to go, it becomes task-oriented. Sadly the human touch is expendable.”
“How can nurses and midwives provide safe, competent care when they do not receive the same care from their employers?” said another from Byron Central Hospital.
“You’ve seen the passion of our members and the conviction around the delivery of safe patient care and doing that on a shift by shift basis. We need transparency, we need a guaranteed system and that’s why we’ll continue to campaign for ratios here in our public health system,” NSWNMA General Secretary Brett Holmes said.
NSW Opposition Leader Luke Foley guaranteed a new ratios system would be introduced under Labor on the final day of the NSWNMA conference.
“I commit a future Labor government to introducing shift-by-shift nurse to patient ratios. We will work with you to deliver nurse to patient ratios explicitly in your Award in 2019.”
NSW Labor’s commitment was a giant leap in the right direction for patient safety, Mr Holmes said. “If the current government won’t fix it, we have to change it [the government],” he said.