NSW nurses rally to demand patient safety

July 26, 2013
Nurses call for nurse-patient ratios of one to four.

Mass stopwork meetings of NSW Nurses and Midwives Association (NSWNMA) members on July 24 resolved that: "Public health system nurses and midwives will escalate their community and workplace campaign to convince the NSW government that the nursing hours/ratios system should be extended to more clinical areas, and improved to guarantee the same minimum levels in all hospitals in NSW.

"Our campaign will continue with activities including: continued pressure on MPs; building local community, professional and public sector advocacy coalitions; bed closures and service restrictions where needed to ensure safe patient care; and standing together to uphold the correct implementation and maintenance of ratios in wards and units where they currently exist …

"Each of us here today commit to continuing our involvement in activities and building community support. Our next step will include working with our branches to collect 100,000 petition signatures for presentation for an action on September 17."

The Sydney meeting of 3000 at Olympic Park, together with live-streamed meetings at 17 regional centres around the state, totalling a further 2000 members, voted unanimously to escalate community and workplace action in support of their campaign for improved nurse-to-patient ratios, especially in critical care and emergency areas.

NSWNMA general secretary Brett Holmes told the July 25 Sydney Morning Herald: "For a few hundred million dollars a year, the state government can dramatically improve patient care. The extra staffing will save lives and money.

"We are calling on the O'Farrell [Liberal] government to improve the public health system so we can deliver safer levels of care."

The association is calling for one nurse to four patients in general medical, surgical and mental health wards, and country hospitals; and one to three in general children's wards and emergency departments.

"We have to be prepared for a long fight here in NSW," Holmes told the Sydney meeting. "We will have to campaign harder and dig deeper to win.

"We will need to force the O'Farrell government to change its draconian anti-union industrial relations laws in order to achieve our aims. Whichever party is in power, Liberal or ALP, must commit to safe nurse/patient ratios," he said.

Holmes condemned the O'Farrell government's resort to full-page advertisements in that day's mainstream newspapers claiming the government was offering a 2.5% pay rise to all public nursing staff. He pointed out that the 2.5% incorporated an increase in superannuation payments, meaning the wage rise amounted to only 2.25%.

Mark Lennon, Unions NSW state secretary, told the crowd: "On behalf of the rest of the NSW union movement: We support you.

"We support your campaign against the attacks of the O'Farrell government. The jobs and conditions of public sector workers are under the gun.

"Some 15,000 public sector jobs have gone in this state. With $15 billion in cuts in the recent state budget, there are many more job losses to come."

Other speakers detailed the problems and stress that staff shortages were causing in NSW public hospitals. Letters of support were received from unions around Australia, and internationally.

The union distributed publicity for a Nurses and Midwives international day of action on September 17, noting that on that day, "nurses and midwives across 14 countries [will] stand together to fight for patient safety and government to put public services and patient safety before the bottom line.

"Global Nurses United is an action oriented formation of registered nurses, midwives and health sector workers ... that have come together to fight the cuts to essential public services and erosion of patient care."

For more information, visit the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association's website.

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