For the health of the country, things must change
In the last three years, Australia has been devastated by emergencies that have had an incalculable impact on the country.
Bushfires of breathtaking scale and intensity, unprecedented floods, and the worst public health emergency in a century have exacted an enormous toll on our communities.
Nurses and midwives have been called to action like never before, to care for the victims of these catastrophes and to protect the community at large.
Your efforts have been heroic; even more so considering the glaring deficiencies in the public health and aged care sectors that we have been bringing to the attention of governments for more than a decade.
COVID, in particular, has exposed how these sectors have been run down over a long period and starved of resources – especially staff – by a succession of negligent governments.
Over the last three years, while your efforts have been stellar and rightly appreciated by the community, the opposite has to be said of the governments responsible for public health and aged care.
Three sickening images come to mind that encapsulate the lack of leadership, seriousness and sense of responsibility that was needed to govern the country through these difficult times.
First, Prime Minister Scott Morrison relaxing in a Hawaiian shirt during an overseas holiday while the country was literally in flames. Second, aged care minister Richard Colbeck enjoying himself at a cricket test instead of fronting up to a COVID-19 senate committee that was grappling with the implosion of the aged care sector under the weight of the pandemic. And third, Premier Dominic Perrottet swilling beer in a pub as part of a PR stunt to announce the lifting of restrictions in NSW – just as Omicron was about to surge.
Infrastructure left to rot
These images are symbolic of something more profound and unsettling. Australia’s infrastructure has been left to rot, including in health and aged care, and our political incumbents seem incapable of grasping this fact let alone providing a vision to fix it.
This federal election is an opportunity for accountability and a fresh start.
We need a government with the vision and political will to build a robust, well-resourced public health system that will be able to provide safety for Australians in the face of health threats, which we have to acknowledge are likely to keep coming.
We also need an aged care system that puts the needs of the elderly first.
Now with a major commitment from a major political party to mandate the ratios we need in aged care to keep our residents safe, I feel hopeful that this neglected sector will receive the reform it desperately needs.
The experiences of the last three years show that the economy suffers too – and enormously – when there is no preparation for health or climate emergencies and when our health system is overwhelmed.
As nurses and midwives we can make a big difference. As professionals at the frontline we have a voice on health and aged care that is deeply respected by the public.
From now to the election, I would urge you to get involved and engage with your friends, family, neighbours and work colleagues about what is happening to our health and aged care systems.
This federal election is an opportunity to fix the fundamental weaknesses in the aged care sector. All NSWNMA members can play a role as we pressure all political parties to address the issues we have been campaigning on for more than a decade.
What has come to light over the last two COVID-filled years about the state of aged care has been terrifying.
Even before COVID, the aged care sector was in a profound crisis. The consequences of that neglect have been tragic and deadly.
Since the pandemic arrived on our shores, over 15,000 aged care residents have caught the virus and more than 1700 of them have died from COVID. Over 18,000 staff have been infected.
The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety was clear about the fundamental weaknesses of the system, which left residents and staff exposed.
“Quality and safety cannot be achieved without the sector having enough staff with the skills and time to care,” it said in its final report.
It recommended that every residential facility should have at least one registered nurse on site 24 hours a day.
This effectively endorsed the NSWNMA’s stand on the issue prosecuted over more than a decade.