Our public health system needs constant nurturing not neglect
Nurse and midwife numbers are failing to keep up with increased demand and we can see the public health system creaking throughout NSW as a consequence.
In this month’s Lamp we have a multitude of stories about midwifery services and public hospitals being overwhelmed by intense demand. These are just the tip of the iceberg. Nurses and midwives throughout NSW are telling us about their exhaustion and low morale as they strive to deliver quality care in the face of bulging wards.
This cannot be explained away just by the winter surge. That is an annual reality that hospitals plan and prepare for. There is something deeper going on here and we have seen it before.
Before we won ratios in 2011 we heard the same alarm bells ringing throughout our public health system as nurses and midwives struggled dutifully to keep our public hospitals viable. Exhaustion, low morale, even despondency,
were the warning signs then that all was not well. Some members of the public would be surprised
to hear that these same problems are replicated in private hospitals as well.
The introduction of ratios did something to alleviate that pressure in the public health system but we always knew they needed to be extended and improved if the NSW public and private health systems are to remain world class.
There is a constant increase of demand on our health services with constant population growth. Staffing of our health system must always improve if we are to maintain the high level of care that the public expects and deserves.
In the next 20 years the NSW population is expected to grow by 2.2 million people from 7.7 million to 9.9 million. That’s 2.1 million more babies, 51.3 million more emergency visits, 470,000 more hip replacements, 81,700 more injured children (see pp 16-17).
This increased demand demands more nurses and midwives.
Ignoring the problem is not an option
It is not good enough for the government to sit on its hands and do nothing about investing in our public healthcare system in the face of this challenge.
In fact, it is a dereliction of responsibility for the government or for that matter any employer to pretend that the problem of understaffing doesn’t exist.
Fudging the numbers with the use of AiNs and students will inevitably be exposed in time by poorer health outcomes.
Certainly, for nurses and midwives who are left with the task of delivering care on a day-to-day basis, ignoring the problem is not an option.
All we have seen over recent years from both the state and federal governments in terms of policy to fix this problem has been privatisation and budget cuts – both of which will clearly exacerbate the problem not solve it.
NSW health unions – the NSWNMA, HSU and the Doctors’ Union are committed to fighting for a better public health system. All of us, along with Unions NSW, have joined forces to drive a campaign – that we call Keep NSW in a Healthy State – that is aimed at harnessing community support to achieve this.
(Incidentally, our commitment and our advocacy for patients and public health should give pause to those who would seek to undermine or destroy the Australian union movement (see pp 21). Not only are unions essential organisations for better pay and conditions but who else is going to stand up and defend our public services like health?)
We remain resolute in our belief that ratios are the key to a robust public health system. When they were first introduced they were instrumental in maintaining a balance between demand and the resources needed to meet that demand.
We know ratios work. We know they save lives. But we also know they must be constantly improved to meet the ever changing dynamics of healthcare and population growth. ■