A change of government in NSW is a victory for political participation by nurses and midwives and creates a new pathway for the implementation of ratios.
The Lamp talked to NSWNMA members in the public
health system about the election result and the consequences for public health in NSW.
An opportunity for change
Geoff Hudson, branch president at Albury Hospital, said from his personal perspective, the NSW election result was great.
“My partner [Dr Amanda Cohn] was elected to the Upper House, and is now the Greens spokesperson for Health. She has moved a notice of motion about reinforcing support for our ratios campaign.”
Geoff said Albury branch members were active during the election campaign, with street stalls and letterboxing with flyers for ratios.
“Nurses are very happy with the change of government,” he said.
Geoff said, following the election, his colleagues “are certainly hopeful but we are really just watching, waiting to see”.
“People think there is an opportunity for change to happen now.”
He said the Albury branch voted unanimously for the 2023 claim.
“Certainly, workloads and ratios are the biggest issues,” he said.
“We are in a bit of a unique position in Albury, on the border with the Victorian side a couple of kilometres away. We see a real disparity because they have ratios in Victoria and because they haven’t had the same pay cap that we’ve been subject to.”
Geoff said the branch will continue to engage with the community about our issues.
“Our next step as a branch is to try to get some local media to get ratios back on the agenda. And we want to make sure that all our members are aware of the new claim and what we are asking for.
“My biggest concern going forward is the lack of timeframe around the government making changes. The government has said they will implement ratios – although not the full claim we have asked for – but they have not put a timeframe around that.”
“I’m cautiously optimistic”
Alicia Rodgers, the branch secretary at Nepean Hospital is an RN in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).
She said the election is a step forward in our campaign but we need to maintain pressure or “we won’t be able to make change”.
“I think it is really positive that members across NSW have voted in support of our 2023 claim,” she said.
“I’m cautiously optimistic, but I think there is a lot of work before we get any meaningful change in NICU and Special Care Nurseries.”
“My colleagues in Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) were subdued after the election. We are, unfortunately, one of the units that didn’t get a commitment from the incoming government to improve nurse to patient ratios.”
She said NICU nurses are asking for ratios of one-to-one in neonatal intensive care, one-to-two in high-dependency units, and one-to-three in a special care nursery unit.
“Critically, we are also asking for access nurses, which some of our adult ICUs have. We are also asking for things like lactation consultants. They are currently not available in all NICUs to support mothers to express milk for their sick or preterm baby.”
Alicia said a group of NICU nurses were able to engage with the new Minister of Health, Ryan Park, at the strike rally outside Parliament House last November.
“We spoke to him about ratios in NICU, and we really impressed on him why ratios are important.
“He told us he was listening, and we really hope he was listening and will have some discussions with his colleagues.
“We would welcome the Health Minister to come and meet with neonatal nurses to get an idea about what happens in NICU and Special Care Nurseries.
“All people in NSW deserve safe care from their nurses and their midwives; NSW should be leading our country in terms of health care, not trailing behind.
Excited but apprehensive
Samantha Gregory-Jones, NSWNMA branch delegate for the Canowindra Health Service, said her colleagues are expecting a change of government to lead to concrete improvements in their health service.
“We are a rural facility – a fifteen-bed facility staffed to run ten with ambulatory care and an ED – and we work with a base of one RN and one EN.
“For us [if the ALP delivers on its promise] it would mean having two RNs on a shift, and a third person all the time.”
Samantha said there was a mixture of feelings after the election.
“We were excited, but we were apprehensive at the same time. [The result] was kind of like we had a bit of a sigh of relief. Initially, my members were saying ‘It means another RN, and it means we are not working in isolation’.”
Samantha said that even though Canowindra is a small service, NSWNMA members were willing participants in the campaign leading up to the election – as was the local community.
“We did participate in the very first strike in 2022. We had all our members involved – about ten of us, and three of us were on shift.
“The community members who came said ‘We’re here because you literally saved our lives, and we are so thankful’.
“For the second strike, we all wore red shirts. On our shifts, we didn’t do anything that wasn’t about saving lives or directly impacting the patients: so, we didn’t make beds, we didn’t do the midnight timesheets.”
Samantha said there was strong support for the NSWNMA’s 2023 claim – inside and outside the hospital.
“We had a one hundred-per-cent-unanimous yes vote. Ratios are so important.
“Our local member, [Independent] Philip Donato, has popped out a couple of times and had a photo taken with us, and is very supportive. That is one motivation to see there is light. And we do feel as if our metropolitan colleagues are lifting us up.”