The Guardian • Issue #2002

A matter of life or death

  • The Guardian
  • Issue #2002

Photo: Aleksahgabrielle (CC BY-SA 4.0)

On 31st March, thousands of nurses and midwives took strike action across NSW, with many walking off the job for 24-hours from 7 AM, over the NSW government’s failure to act on the staffing crisis in public hospitals. Last week’s action follows an initial state-wide strike six weeks ago.

Actions were taken at twenty-eight sites around the state.

J, a nurse at the Sydney rally, told the Guardian the rally was “really positive” with its atmosphere of solidarity and determination amid anger at the failure of the government to act. Nurses and midwives have been campaigning around ratios for ten years.

“It’s time the government engaged with those on the front line and dropped their arrogant approach,” J stated.

A nurse-to-patient ratio is the number of nurses working on a ward or unit in relation to the number of patients they care for.

Good nurse-to-patient ratios ensure a safe level of care and decrease the risk of poor patient outcomes, and unnecessary deaths. Without the right ratios, patients across NSW are missing out on thousands of hours of much needed nursing care.

Slogans on banners and placards read: “Safe staffing saves lives,” “Ratios – a matter of life or death,” “one to three in ED,” “Ratios save lives,” “Not coping, not cool.”

NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association (NSWNMA) branch members held the twenty-eight public rallies as part of their state-wide actions, to again call for nurse-to-patient ratios and improved maternity staffing on every shift. Thousands of nurses, midwives and supporters descended on Macquarie Street from 10 AM, for a rally outside Parliament House.

NSWNMA General Secretary, Brett Holmes, said nurses and midwives were demanding the NSW government address the growing patient safety concerns being raised by frontline health staff.

“Our members are increasingly frustrated at the government’s inaction to address the serious issues they are raising shift after shift, but seemingly falling on deaf ears,” said Holmes.

“More than 180 branches voted in favour of state-wide strike action, and over 160 of those will be participating in a 24-hour strike or work bans, leaving behind staff to provide life-preserving care.

“Despite their pleas for more support from the government, nurses and midwives are extremely fatigued from working double shifts and increased amounts of overtime, because of the growing gaps in staffing rosters.

“We need the NSW government to sit down with us for meaningful talks about our claim for shift-by-shift, nurse-to-patient ratios, improved maternity staffing and a modest pay rise.

“What nurses and midwives are asking for is not unreasonable. We’re simply calling on the government to prioritise patient care and commit to a safe staffing model with a guaranteed minimum number of nurses and midwives on every shift.”

The NSWNMA has had no offer from the government since meeting with the NSW Premier on 21st February.

Holmes told the rally that Health Minister Brad Hazzard had dismissed the nurse-to-patient ratios in place in Victoria and Queensland (see below).

“So we have to change the minister’s mind, or change the minister … or change the government. If they don’t negotiate, we will be back here again and again”, a call greeted with cheers and applause.


Understaffing is rife across public hospitals. Workloads are growing, yet there is less support.

There are simply not enough nurses or midwives being rostered on each shift, resulting in workplace fatigue and dangerous workplace conditions.

Emergency and surgical wait times continue to balloon out. Kitchen staff without sufficient training are being made to look after patients. Incidences of violence in hospitals continue to reach unacceptable levels.

There aren’t enough nurses to patients and it’s risking lives.

We need better ratios to safeguard the future of our public health system.


International studies from the past twenty years have shown a direct correlation between nurse staffing levels and improved patient outcomes.

Research conducted on ratios implemented in Queensland shows 185 lives have been saved since the policy came into effect. A further 255 readmissions were prevented.

Further, the state saved $70 million because of the improvements in patient outcomes.

What’s happening in other states?

Victoria and Queensland have made nurse-to-patient ratios law. NSW should be leading, not lagging behind.

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