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Record number support safer staffing levels

Nurses and midwives are committed to better staff-patient ratios. By Aileen Macalintal

A record number of NSW nurses and midwives are backing pay and staff ratio demands, according to the NSW Nurses and Midwives' Association.

The NSWNMA wants guaranteed safer nursing levels in emergency departments, high dependency units, for seriously ill children, in rural hospitals and multipurpose services, and safer nursing and midwifery staffing arrangements in community health services.

The NSWNMA contends that the state government needs to work on the safer hospital staffing levels promised in 2011 under an agreement between the NSWNMA and the previous government.

The claim also includes two 2.5 per cent annual pay rises, which will provide the majority of experienced, full-time nurses and midwives with a pay rise of more than $70 weekly, or more than $3800 annually, by July 2014.

The NSWNMA presented the claim to the state government on March 11, through the Health Ministry, to have it incorporated into the new Public Health System Nurses & Midwives (State) Award, which replaces the current award in June.

Of the 215 NSWNMA branches that voted, a record 214 branches endorsed the claim. Voters represented more than 30,000 nurses and midwives in NSW's public hospitals and community health centres.

NSWNMA general secretary Brett Holmes said the strong vote showed the commitment of NSW nurses and midwives to safer patient care.

"Nurses and midwives working under the first round of compulsory, minimum ratios are clear they have provided a safer clinical and less stressful working environment. This record vote indicates just how committed they are to extending the benefits to all patients around the state," Holmes said.

"The strong vote also sends a clear message to the state government about the nurses' and midwives' determination to maintain and extend safer staffing levels," he said.

"The O'Farrell government is very willing to take credit every time a new batch of nurses or midwives is employed to fill the new positions created by the ratios, which were actually agreed between the NSWNMA and the previous Labor government."

Holmes said that it "will be interesting to see how (the state government) reacts now that it has a chance to act in its own right and extend this reform into other important areas such as children's wards, emergency departments, high dependency units, rural facilities and community health services".

"Hopefully, it will heed the message from nurses and midwives and do the right thing, without the need for an extended campaign."

A spokesperson for the NSW Ministry of Health said it would begin negotiations with the NSWNMA in coming weeks.

"Since March 2011, the NSW government has recruited more than 3000 nurses, by headcount, in NSW hospitals - surpassing its commitment of 2475 more nurses," the spokesperson said.

"Of these, more than 1300 have been recruited to hospitals in rural and regional local health districts.

"In addition, the NSW government is currently welcoming more than 2000 nurse graduates to hospitals throughout the state, 500 of these in rural and regional local health districts."

The spokesperson added that a staffing formula called 'nursing hours per patient day' guided the number of nurses in regional and metro hospitals, as agreed between the ministry and the NSWNMA in February 2011.

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