“NSW Health thinks staffing is safe and there are no workload problems”
Our ratios claim is backed by incontrovertible clinical evidence. In Queensland, ratios are paying for themselves and more. A host of economists, including the head of the Reserve Bank, is calling for significant pay rises to boost the Australian economy. Yet, the NSW government wilfully refuses to listen. Least of all, to the voices of nurses and midwives who have given their all at the frontline.
“Enough is enough”. That’s the message NSW nurses and midwives are taking to their communities in the face of intransigence from the state government in response to our pay and conditions claim.
NSW Health has rejected all our 2021 Ratios and Conditions Claim. On 15 April it offered a 1.04 per cent pay rise. This is well below the 4.7 per cent increase claimed by the Association to make up for the 0.3 per cent wage freeze imposed on nurses and midwives last year.
NSWNMA General Secretary, Brett Holmes, said the government and NSW Health think nothing needs to change.
“They think your staffing is safe, there are no workload problems and that nurses and midwives’ registration is safe,” he said.
“They need to hear that the system is in crisis and it is nurses and midwives holding the precarious health system together.”
Brett says the Association wrote to the premier asking the government to work with us to implement shift-by-shift ratios and to seek a meeting with a group of nurses and midwives.
“To date, the premier has ignored nurses and midwives,” he said.
NSWNMA members have not taken the government’s insulting response lying down.
During May, nurses and midwives turned out in large numbers in rallies held throughout the state, including the combined branches in the Lower Hunter, Shellharbour Hospital, Prince of Wales Hospital with the Royal Hospital for Women, Prince of Wales Mental Health and Sydney Children’s Hospital.
Westmead; Cumberland and Westmead Kids Hospitals; Mount Druitt, Auburn, Blacktown Hospital, Canterbury; Maitland, John Hunter Hospital and Belmont Hospital; Balmain Hospital and South East Regional Hospital, Bega, have also held lunchtime rallies.
As The Lamp goes to press, members are conducting extraordinary branch meetings to vote on whether to accept the state government’s paltry offer of a 1.04 per cent pay rise and no improvements to staffing.
Research debunks criticism of ratios
Our campaign for shift-by-shift ratios has been boosted by a groundbreaking study of Queensland’s ratios by an international team of researchers (see pp 10–11).
Experts from the University of Pennsylvania, in collaboration with the Queensland University of Technology’s School of Nursing, say Queensland’s experience with ratios “offers insights for the jurisdictions that are debating minimum nurse-to-patient ratio policies”.
The Queensland study adds to decades of research showing that improved nurse staffing levels lead to better patient outcomes.
But the Queensland evaluation goes further. It also debunks criticisms of ratios that have been levelled after their implementation in Victoria and California.
“Opponents argued that little information existed about the return on investment from the additional nurses required as a result of a ratios mandate. Our findings fill these gaps,” it said.
The evaluation found that savings due to fewer readmissions and shorter length of stay were more than twice the cost of the additional nurse staffing.
Another criticism was that ratios were “inflexible”.
“Queensland mandated a minimum average staffing level at the ward level – an individual could have more or fewer as long as the average number of patients per nurse didn’t exceed ratio limits,” the researchers said.
“This offered more flexibility in patient assignments. Our analysis suggests that Queensland’s flexible design is feasible and yields good outcomes.”
“The results … suggest that minimum nurse-to-patient ratio policies are a feasible policy instrument to improve nurse staffing, produce better patient outcomes, and yield a good return on investment.”
Decent pay rises are good for the economy
The pay component of our claim is also consistent with what prominent economists say is necessary for the Australian economy to bounce back from the pandemic.
The Governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia has made it clear that wage growth in Australia needs to be at least three per cent per year for the country to prosper.
This is in line with analyses by the International Monetary Fund and the International Labour Organization.
In other Australian states, governments have rewarded their nurses and midwives with pay increases well in excess of NSW.
COD considers all options
At our latest Committee of Delegates meeting, a resolution passed that expressed “frustration and anger at the recent rejection of members’ ratios and safe staffing claims, along with the meagre pay offer by the Ministry of Health”.
“The Ministry has failed to recognise and address the current staffing crisis in NSW Health. The evidence is clearly demonstrated in Queensland and Victoria, showing that shift-by-shift ratios is the solution to this staffing crisis,” it said.
“We see no other option but to … consider all options to convince the government of the need for a fair pay increase and mandated shift-by-shift ratios in NSW, to ensure safe patient care.”
Our campaign takes to TV
The NSWNMA has launched a TV ad to alert the public to the critical state of our public hospital system, under even more pressure as the result of the pandemic:
Watch the ad at www.ratioslifeordeath.org.au