The Barr Labor government in the ACT has announced funding for a plan to provide for mandated minimum staffing ratios in Canberra’s health system, after years of campaigning by the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ACT Branch).
The plan announced by Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith will implement minimum nurse-to-patient ratios across the territory’s health system in a phased approach as part of the enterprise bargaining process between the ACT government and nurses and midwives in the public sector.
Talks of reform began between the ANMF( ACT Branch) and the ACT government in 2017, when nurses and midwives working in the ACT public sector called for mandated nurse-to-patient ratios. In 2018, the ANMF ACT and ACT government signed a memorandum of understanding to commit to designing a Ratios Framework which could be implemented across clinical areas in the public health sector.
In the first phase of the rollout, mandated minimum ratios will be implemented in medical and surgical wards, adult mental health and acute aged care. The ratios will be 1:4 on both morning and evening shifts, and 1:6 on night shifts.
The proposal also includes a commitment for both morning and afternoon team leaders to be supernumerary to the stated ratios, which means they will not have a patient load when undertaking this role.
These mandated minimum staffing ratios are not intended to prevent staffing above the minimum when acuity and workload demand increased staffing levels.
Additional to these mandated minimums, the staffing framework also provides mechanisms for nurses and midwives to discuss, consult and determine the resources to adequately provide person-centred, safe care. Importantly, the framework considers the ward model of care, skill mix, work health and safety, patient acuity and activity, patient safety and quality measures to assist wards to identify their staffing needs beyond the minimum.
Minister Stephen-Smith said that the reforms were key to reducing staff fatigue and to creating a more sustainable workforce.
“Implementing ratios guarantees there will be more staff on the ward to provide care and ensures an increased skill mix on each shift to provide the best possible care for patients in our public health system,” she said.
Matthew Daniel, ANMF (ACT Branch)’s Secretary, applauded the announcement, saying that “it’s been a while coming”.
“This will ensure that there will be enough hands, with enough skills, to provide the right care,” he said.
“It shows that the ACT government is backing in nurses and midwives, and addressing workload and patient care matters”.
Further phases of the rollout are slated to be negotiated in upcoming rounds of enterprise bargaining between the ACT government and the ANMF (ACT Branch), and will include midwifery and other specialty areas.
To date, the Berejiklian government in NSW has yet to commit to mandated minimum staffing ratios, lagging behind the ACT, Victoria and Queensland.