Safety is the number one priority
In a difficult and dangerous year, the safety of nurses, midwives and patients has been our overriding concern.
At the end of this strange year, full of uncertainty, light is appearing at the end of the tunnel.
Evidence that several vaccines are showing signs of strong effectiveness against COVID gives us reason for hope that the threat of coronavirus will be reducing in 2021. The massive task of immunizing the world lies ahead but at least the prospect of having vaccines to do it with is uplifting.
While it seems like it has been a very long year, truth be told, the vaccines have been developed in a breathtakingly short time.
It is a powerful reminder, thrilling really, of the potential of science and medicine to solve enormous problems confronting humanity when they are backed by political will and appropriate resources.
COVID has also laid bare the effectiveness of global health systems in a crisis – for better and for worse.
In the United States we have seen the worst. In the richest country on the planet more than a quarter of a million people have died from the coronavirus with more than 12 million infected.
For the US health system, and the nurses working within it, COVID is an unmitigated disaster. A fragmented and unevenly resourced system combined with political ineptitude has put patients and health staff at a risk that is unconscionable.
A recent survey by National Nurses United, revealed more than 70 per cent of US hospital nurses said they were afraid of contracting Covid-19 and 80 per cent feared they might infect a family member.
More than half said they struggled to sleep and 62 per cent reported feeling stressed and anxious. Nearly 80 per cent said they were forced to re-use single-use, PPE, like N95 respirators. Nearly 1400 US health staff have died from the virus.
Australia is up there among the countries who have dealt best with the pandemic thanks to a world class health system, a skilled and dedicated health workforce and an effective, evidence-based strategy.
Even Victoria, the state hit hardest, is one of the few places in the world to have overcome a substantive second wave.
In NSW, nurses and midwives should be proud of their achievements during this testing year. You have been “the safe pair of hands” throughout.
NSWNMA members have not only contributed to the safe environment for patients and the community through their daily work but also through effective campaigning they have brought about enduring safety improvements to the health system with better PPE and the use of fit-testing as a norm.
It was pleasing to see these achievements recognised in the SafeWork awards.
Despite Australia’s success in dealing with COVID, there is no room for complacency and lessons still need to be learnt.
Governments need to realise this success did not come through luck. They need to fully grasp the reality that COVID has brutally exposed globally: that underinvestment in health and the health workforce poses mortal threats to the community and to the economy.
Yet, unfortunately, there are signs that some politicians have not learnt these lessons.
The insulting pay cap imposed by the NSW government on nurses and midwives as a “reward” for their valiant efforts at the frontline of COVID is one such sign.
The policy paralysis in aged care and failure to invest in improved nursing care in that troubled sector is another.
It was instructive to see that the counsel assisting the Royal Commission into Age Care point out in their final report how nursing unions have been sidelined by the federal government, even though they have been advocating for the obvious improvements to care needed to provide a safer environment for elderly Australians, and have been doing so for a long time.
It is high time politicians listened to what nurses and midwives, and their representatives, have to say about safety in our health and aged care sectors. They are at the frontline and know what they are talking about.