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State budgets in New South Wales and South Australia, unveiled on Tuesday, fall well short of addressing the urgent needs of health systems in crisis, according to ANMF state branches.

Despite the NSW government’s 2.5% public sector wages backflip, the New South Wales Nurses and Midwives’ Association (NSWNMA, ANMF NSW) labelled the state’s 2021-22 budget a “missed opportunity”, with more pressing issues such as nurse-to-patient ratios, once again ignored.

“Evidence our public health system is in crisis is growing day after day,” NSWNMA General Secretary Brett Holmes said.

“The NSW government’s own hospital data shows the enormous strain health workers are grappling with. It is relentless.”

Mr Holmes said nurses and midwives had shouldered excessive workloads and carried the NSW government through the global COVID-19 pandemic. The government’s disregard for ratios had promoted many nurses to relocate to other states that have legislated ratios, he added.

“We are losing nurses and midwives to Queensland and Victoria because those states have mandated nurse-to-patient ratios and better pay,” he revealed.

“The NSW government needs to step up before our nursing and midwifery workforce shortage gets even worse.”

While the NSWNMA acknowledged the need for improvements to health infrastructure, it says urgent investment in staffing is crucial. The union and its members are seeking mandated ratios, including one nurse to three patients in emergency departments, and one nurse to four patients on other wards.

“Our communities do need new hospitals and health upgrades, but those buildings aren’t much use if they aren’t staffed with proper nurse-to-patient ratios to maximise health outcomes for patients,” Mr Holmes said.

The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (SA Branch) echoed similar sentiments as the SA budget was handed down yesterday, saying the package would do little to address the chronic overcrowding and under-resourcing plaguing the state’s public hospitals.

“This budget is like a donut. On the surface it looks okay but there is a huge hole in it,” said ANMF (SA Branch) CEO/Secretary Adj Associate Professor Elizabeth Dabars.

“Additional ambulances and emergency department beds are needed, and these are welcomed, but there is no substantial funding for inpatient hospital beds and operating theatre capacity to care for these additional people brought for emergency care.”

Ms Dabars said the state government had injected money into emergency healthcare, but crucially, not added the inpatient and supporting services needed to provide ongoing care to the increased number of people coming through the doors of EDs.

The union argues the budget shows a “complete lack of insight” and lacks real substance.

Ms Dabars said additional funds for mental health programs, such as specialist mental health training, and eight additional intensive care beds, are welcomed, but do not go far enough, and fail to address the need to support and grow the healthcare workforce more broadly.

Other shortcomings in the budget include no clear funding to move people stuck in hospitals waiting for disability or aged care placement; funds for community teams being below what is needed to keep people in the community out of hospital; and concerns over the capacity of a new Women’s and Children’s Hospital and lack of commitment to build the workforce needed to staff it.

Nurses and midwives are chronically fatigued, and the current working environment is not safe for them or the patients they care for, Ms Dabars said. The ongoing issues have not been addressed in the latest budget.

In fact, across the Central Adelaide Local Health Network (CAHLN), the Marshall Government is cutting more than 300 nursing roles, the union points out.

“We recognise that some of these roles were casual positions that may no longer be needed as the COVID-19 crisis subsides, however we understand that this only applies to about a third of these 300 roles,” Ms Dabars said.

“In a time when our healthcare system is in crisis how could any reasonable person think it is appropriate to reduce the workforce?

“With a budget that seems to be more hole than donut, the health system will remain in crisis unless urgent action is taken.”