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‘White privilege’? Industry bodies respond to criticism of new code

Some of Australia's leading healthcare bodies have today issued a joint statement in response to comments made about recognising "white privilege" in the sector.

The statement refers to comments made by Graeme Haycroft on Sydney talk-back radio, and was jointly written by the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia, The Congress of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nurses and Midwives, Australian College of Midwives, Australian College of Nursing and Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation.

Haycroft is one of the founders of the Nurses Professional Association of Queensland, and recently published an article on the topic of "cultural safety" which was discussed on national radio.

The article, 'Nurses Latest Target of PC Brigade' claims that the newly updated Code of Conduct for nurses could see staff fired "at the whim of any disgruntled or offended patient," and involved "no discussion or consultation" with nurses.

Following is an extract of Haycroft's article:


Their new code now eye wateringly says "– cultural safety provides a decolonising model of practice based on dialogue, communication power-sharing and negotiation, and the acknowledgement of white privilege". Read it yourself on page 15 of the code.  It also says "Cultural safety" is now equally as important to quality care as "clinical safety" and nurses and midwives must now take this into account when dealing with patients and their families.  How on earth is this going to work when say the young aboriginal kid is brought into the emergency ward after a knife fight with his blood and guts spread all over the gurney screaming abuse at the white nurse who is about to try and help him? Does the nurse quietly sit beside him, hold his hand and explain in gentle tones that upon measured reflection he/she is aware of his/her white privilege and this will be informing his/her care?

The joint statement released today has called these comments out as misleading, and attempted to clarify the updated code.

"In response to Graeme Haycroft’s recent comments, we welcome the opportunity to provide further information on how important cultural safety is for improving health outcomes and experiences for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples," the statement said.

"It is clear from the 2018 Closing the Gap Report tabled by Prime Minister Turnbull in February 2018 that Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Peoples still experience poorer health outcomes than non-Indigenous Australians; it is well understood these inequities are a result of the colonisation process and the many discriminatory policies to which Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Australians were subjected to, and the ongoing experience of discrimination today.

"The approach the NMBA has taken for nurses and midwives by setting expectations around culturally safe practice, reflects the current expectations of governments to provide a culturally safe health system, and culturally safe and respectful practice is not a new concept."

The statement goes on to detail the consultation process involved in the making of the new Code of Conduct, and emphasises that no verbal acknowledgement of white privilege – as suggested by Haycroft – was required by staff.

"The principle of cultural safety in the new Code of Conduct for nurses and Code of Conduct for midwives provides simple, common sense guidance on how to work in a partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. The codes do not require nurses or midwives to declare or apologise for white privilege," the statement said.

"The guidance around cultural safety in the codes sets out clearly the behaviours that are expected of nurses and midwives, and the standard of conduct that patients and their families can expect. It is vital guidance for improving health outcomes and experiences for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.

"The codes were developed through an evidence-based and extensive consultation process conducted over a two-year period. Their development included literature reviews to ensure they were based on the best available international and Australian evidence, as well as an analysis of complaints about the conduct of nurses and midwives to ensure they were meeting the public’s needs.

"The consultation and input from the public and professions included working groups, focus groups and preliminary and public consultation. The public consultation phase included a campaign to encourage nurses and midwives to provide feedback.

"Nurses and midwives are expected to engage with all people as individuals in a culturally safe and respectful way, foster open, honest and compassionate professional relationships, and adhere to their obligations about privacy and confidentiality."

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