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Holmes on nursing

NSW Nursing and Midwives Association general secretary Brett Holmes talks about what matters most – from nurse-patient ratios to wage claims, and how the NSWNMA can help nursing graduates pursue their chosen profession. By Aileen Macalintal

NSW has seen a rise in the numbers of nurses and midwives of about 4,000, but other areas remain to be addressed. Nursing Review spoke to Brett Holmes of the NSWNMA about what the organisation is focusing on.

How would you sum up the current state of NSW nursing?

Nursing and midwifery in the public health system has seen an increase of nearly 1582 full-time equivalent (FTE) positions as a result of the introduction of nurse to patient ratios/ nursing hours, as mandated in the NSW Public Health System Award.

How has this been possible and how much has the number of nurses and midwives increased in the recent years?

The current state government has kept its promise to honour the award negotiated with the previous state Labor government. Minister Skinner is rightfully proud that the NSW Health system has seen the head count of nurses and midwives rise in NSW by nearly 4,000 to meet the FTE requirements of the nurse to patient ratios/ nursing hours.

Are improvements to the nursing and midwifery staff ratios enough?

The increased nursing and midwifery numbers has already seen nurses report improvements in patient care and their satisfaction with their ability to deliver safer and better levels of care to their patients. However, the areas where there is no mandated nursing hours to deliver better ratios are now demanding that they be given the same level of improvements to patient care.

What are these areas?

These include paediatrics, neonatal and special care units, community health, and emergency departments. Also, the associated medical assessment units, emergency assessment units, critical care areas and mental health areas not yet covered by nursing hours /ratios. Importantly, nurses in smaller rural hospitals are also demanding improvements in their nursing hours to match the care provided to city patients.

Why is improving nurse-to-patient ratios important?

A growing body of national and international research is demonstrating that getting the ratios and the skill mix right, delivers better, safer outcomes for patients reducing adverse outcomes saves lives and saves health dollars overall.

Do you think nurses are sufficiently well-paid?

Nurses in 214 of our public health system branches have voted to claim a very modest 2.5 per cent pay increase, and to concentrate on achieving their goals for the delivery of safer patient care.
Nurses in the aged care system continue to be paid less in many cases than their public health system colleagues, but the federal government is now making more money available via the Living Longer Living Better wages compact. This has the potential to deliver some improvements in pay for those nurses who are employed by aged care providers who are prepared to bargain and give some priority to ensuring they have a viable aged care workforce.

What are some of the current challenges that nursing graduates should prepare themselves for?

Nursing graduates are entering a health and aged care system that is always challenging, with expectations that they will take on their responsibilities to build their level of expertise and participate in continuous learning.

What is the NSWNMA doing to help them with these challenges and responsibilities?

The NSWNMA is doing everything it can to try and make the workloads they face reasonable and safe for them and their patients. We are calling on the NSW government and employers to provide more clinical nurse educators to support new practitioners as well as the current nurses in that learning environment.

Why should the government invest in nursing and midwifery?

The government needs to continue investing in improving the numbers and skills of its nursing and midwifery workforce to meet its obligations to the people of NSW in the delivery of safe patient care.
Research shows that patients reap the benefits of the increased nursing numbers with better outcomes less deaths, decreased complications and faster recovery. This is an investment that pays off in lower health costs and better productivity in our community.

What are your plans in the months ahead?

The NSWNMA has launched a major campaign for the next award claim, and our members across the state are visiting their local members of parliament, letting them know about our claim for better nurse to patient ratios, and there will be growing public awareness of the issues.

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