Nurses demand better health system

Photo by Rachel Evans.

Four thousand nurses and midwives met at Sydney Olympic Park on November 24 to protest against the state government's refusal to fund safe nurse-to patient-ratios.

It was the first state-wide nurses’ strike since 2001 and 170 hospitals were affected.

The action was supported by 180 branches of the NSW Nurses Association (NSWNA). The Industrial Relations Commission (IRC) said the strike must be called off, but the nurses were defiant.

The NSW public health system is in crisis. Doctors, nurses, midwives and other health professionals work long hours and suffer severe stress due to under-staffing and under-funding.

Nurses worked eight-and-a-half hours straight with no meal breaks and said they have too many patients to care for.

NSWNA general secretary Brett Holmes said on November 21: "The NSW health department … has ratios as low as one nurse for every seven or eight patients in some places; and the list of staffing problems goes on.”

The Australian Medical Association Public Hospital Report Card 2010 said: “NSW public hospitals do not have the capacity to meet demand.”

NSWNA wants the state ALP government to mandate one nurse for every four patients.

NSWNA president Coral Levett told the meeting: “We have been negotiating with the ALP Keneally government for seven months over mandating the one to four ratio and they have said ‘No’. When we announced strike action, they said ‘Wait, come back to the negotiating table’.

“But for what? To talk about the weather? We won’t stop this campaign until we have these ratios in place.”

The Australian Salaried Medical Officers' Federation (NSW), the Australian Medical Association, the NSW Police Association, Fire-fighters NSW, and the Australian Nurses Federation Queensland and Victorian branches all support the campaign.

Australian Nurses Federation Victorian branch secretary Lisa Fitzpatrick told the crowd: “We have to get the government to spend the money. Victorian nurses fought for it in 2000, 2001, 2004 and 2007. It took 10 years, but we got there and now have a mandated ratio of one to four.

“Stand up for your patients! Mark a line in the sand and say enough is enough! Make it your legacy to improve the public health system!”

The meeting agreed to close hospital beds from 7am on December 1. The motion said the NSW government could stop the closures by giving a constructive offer to the NSWNA by November 30.

Some beds were exempt from the closures to ensure care for patients in most need, including emergency, psychiatric, palliative care, oncology and paediatrics.

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