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Issue #1744      August 17, 2016

In NSW, more privatisations

NSW Minister for Health, Jillian Skinner, confirmed there would be more privatisations of hospitals, claimed there was no evidence nursing home residents were better off with registered nurses and conceded more funding was needed for public services at the NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association’s (NSWNMA) 71st Annual Conference in Sydney last month.

During question time, nurses confronted the Minister about issues of serious concern, such as the lack of appropriate funding for safe staffing at new regional hospitals; the removal of security staff at smaller sites, despite increasing problems with drugs and violence; allowing AiNs (assistant in nursing) to work in mental health intensive care units; removing the requirement for registered nurses in nursing homes; privatising public health assets; and mandating nursing hours per patient day.

Minister Skinner washed her hands of the responsibility to ensure safe and appropriate staffing in nursing homes, referring the issue to the federal government.

“What we did was look right across Australia. No other state or territory has this revision. They all left it to the Commonwealth. There’s absolutely no evidence that any other nursing home residents are better off or worse off than in NSW. That’s the reality. That’s what’s been found,” Ms Skinner said.

The Minister also fielded a question from the Manly District Hospital branch referencing a Commission of Audit report from the former Newman Queensland government a few years ago that showed clinical services in public hospitals were more efficiently run under the public sector than the private.

“I can assure you that the contract we have signed with Healthscope for the Northern Beaches Hospital indicated a tremendous financial and quality advantage. We will look at involvement of the private sector and the not-for-profit sector in other places, such as Maitland. We’ve always said that. Watch this space for news about that in the near future,” Ms Skinner said.

NSWNMA members from the Wagga Wagga Rural Referral Hospital branch raised the issue of understaffing at the new facility and other new regional hospitals in NSW, such as Bega, Byron Bay and Tamworth. There has been a significant increase in presentations at the Wagga Wagga hospital since opening, which has resulted in nurses averaging a sum total of 700 hours overtime a week. The branch questioned the logic in providing capital works for new buildings without the funding for staffing to cover the enormous footprint.

General secretary of the NSWNMA, Brett Holmes responded by saying the Association would continue to campaign here in NSW and across the country around the important issues.

“Clearly there is a widely felt message you received today about our concerns around aged care here in NSW. There is a shortfall in the provision of expert care in aged care right across the country. We are concerned about the cost shifting that will occur from aged care into the public health system,” Mr Holmes said.

“Aged care has a review underway around the Poisons Act and how that will impact nursing homes. If the protections are taken away there, that will be another reason the operators will say, ‘beauty, I can go to the bottom line, I can ask unqualified people to do more in relation to the administration of poisons’. We remain concerned for the welfare of those people in aged care facilities if that goes ahead.

“We want to progress nursing hours per patient day or ratios beyond where they’re currently stalled by the government’s wages policy. The battle continues around enforceability of nursing hours per patient day. The view that they are maximums, not minimums will continue to be an issue for us.”

He said there were many issues involved and called on the government to conduct meaningful discussions at the bargaining table. These should include a review of wages policy. He said the union welcomed all of the new capital works.

Mr Holmes went on to deliver the general secretary report, referencing the many campaigns the NSWNMA has been involved in over the past year, from RN 24/7, Save Medicare, Hands Off our Disability Services and Build a Better Future to the federal election campaign, Save Our Weekend penalty rates, paid parental leave and trade and tax justice.

Federal secretary of the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation Lee Thomas and assistant federal secretary, Annie Butler also spoke to delegates about ongoing issues facing nurses across the country.

Next article – “The Dreamings are ours”

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