Workforce package no substitute for ratios
The Perrottet government’s promised health sector recruiting drive lacks transparency.
In June, the NSW Government announced with much fanfare a $4.5 billion healthcare workforce package over four years.
The package would include recruitment of 10,148 healthcare workers, the government said.
“It sounds like a great big number if you’re a government heading into an election in March next year,” the NSWNMA Director of Strategy and Transformation, Michael Whaites, commented.
He said it appears funding will be allocated to Local Health Districts (LHDs) to employ 7674 healthcare workers, including 2756 nurses and 165 midwives.
Michael Whaites says there is no guarantee that all these proposed nurses and midwives will be employed, as LHDs will have the discretion to determine what employees they need.
“We are far from convinced that these numbers are what is needed for safe patient care in NSW,” he said.
And, as Maitland branch acting secretary Kathy Chapman asked at the Special General Meeting, “What the hell was the government thinking when they announced only 165 (additional) midwives across NSW?”
Michael said the 2756 nurses and 165 midwives includes 966 nurses and 60 midwives promised before the 2019 election but not yet delivered.
“The ministry said it will fund LHDs to employ additional workers, at their discretion.
“We do not know whether the NSWNMA will be consulted on where positions will be located or at what classification.
“Our members want assurances that their excessive workloads will be reduced and they want safe-staffing ratios on every shift, in every ward, in every hospital and every community healthcare setting.
“They need staffing numbers that are transparent and accountable when they show up for their shifts.”
The state government also announ-ced an incentive scheme to attract and retain staff in rural and remote areas.
The cost is $883 million over four years.
The government will offer graduated incentive packages, based on a remoteness index, ranging from $5000 to $10,000 per worker per year of service.
Packages can include additional leave, relocation reimbursement, professional development and study assistance.
Increased training positions will be offered for nursing graduates, nurse practitioners and medical interns.
A further 20 Aboriginal nurse cadetships will be available and a HECS incentive package will be on offer for allied health professionals.
Michael Whaites told the Special General Meeting that the union welcomed the announcement but the government had not said what additional healthcare worker positions will be created in the regions – nor when and where they will be created.
“We also welcome the fact that the government has woken up to the need for nurse practitioners and that more of them are part of answering the needs of regional NSW,” he said.
He noted, however, that the Ministry of Health has rejected the union’s Award claim for a minimum of three nurses rostered on every shift, two of which must be registered nurses.
Similarly, the ministry has rejected our claims for an allowance for First Line Emergency Care Course (FLECC) qualifications for regional and rural nurses and an additional RN rostered on-call and within 15 minutes travel, for sites without access to medical officers 24/7.
“Our concern is that without nurse-to-patient ratios, shift by shift, those incentives will not be enough to make sure that new nurses and midwives who turn up in regional and remote NSW will want to stay and will be able to provide safe patient care.”
Karen Hart, delegate and vice president of the NSWNMA’s Wagga Wagga branch, said the regional workforce incentive scheme was unlikely to help rural sites where nurses were denied allowances for additional qualifications and had to work without an on-call roster.
She said rural nurses often needed additional qualifications such as FLECC and extended scope of practice to cope with the lack of doctors.
Karen said it was “unbelievable” to expect to attract nurses to work at sites with just two nurses and no on-call roster.