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12 March 1991 - Current

Safe Patient Care (Nurse to Patient and Midwife to Patient Ratios) Bill 2015
Page 3357
16 September 2015

Ms WARD (Eltham) — I rise with great happiness to support this bill today, because it is incredibly important. I have to say, though, that along with other Labor members in this house I am disappointed that the coalition has only managed one speaker each to talk about something that is so important and to show its support for the tremendous work that our nurses and midwives do in our community. The fact that members opposite spent so much time in the house yesterday and today ranting and raving about Grand Final Friday and yet have not had the energy to be present in the chamber to talk about their support for our nurses and midwives should make them deeply ashamed.

I am proud to be on this side of the house and part of a government that recognises the absolute importance of the work our nurses and midwives do. The care that they give us can never be underestimated, and to take nurse-to-patient ratios out of the public debate, out of the bargaining process, is incredibly important. The work that nurses do, the safety of their workplace and the care that they give should never be politicised. This issue should not be a political football that gets tossed around. It should be enshrined in legislation, which is exactly what we are going to do. Nurses, midwives and their representatives should not have to argue for good patient care. It should be the responsibility of the government to recognise that that is exactly what they are there to deliver. All patients in this state should have good patient care. It should not be part of a process of bargaining for wages, for penalty rates, for leave and for general work conditions.

I remember the nurses fight a couple of years ago. They wore their T-shirts, and they gathered around the Austin Hospital, day after day, protecting not only their own workplace conditions but also patient safety. The despair that so many nurses felt during that process about not being listened to, about not having their concerns understood and about not being respected was deeply felt. They were deeply unhappy with and dispirited by a coalition government that would not listen and would not show that it cared about, that it respected and that it valued the work that they did. That is what this legislation will do. It sends a very strong signal to our nurses and midwives.

I would like to thank the nurses and midwives from the Australian Nursing & Midwifery Federation who have come here today to listen to us speak. I am glad they have come to this building to listen to the debate. I know it is not always easy to sit in this chamber for more than 10 minutes, and I appreciate their patience and their fortitude in hearing us out, because they have shown through their commitment to being here that they actually have more respect for this place than those opposite, who have not really bothered to turn up at all.

I want to talk first about my own experience with midwives. I gave birth to my two daughters at the Royal Women's Hospital, in the public hospital section, and the care that I received was phenomenal. My midwives were wonderful. Their patience, their care, their compassion — —

Mr Edbrooke — How did you go, though?

Ms WARD — I was fine. I was lucky. I had two really easy births. I loved my midwives. They were so good to me, and they were so patient. My births were pretty quick, but I appreciated their work so much. For those women who have a difficult time with their birth, the gratitude that they must feel for their midwives, for the care their midwives give them, must be absolutely astronomical. My midwives were wonderful. My first daughter was born just after 10 o'clock, and my midwives had been on a shift for hours and hours — I think 10 or 12 hours — and yet they stayed with me to wait until my daughter was born. They were not just clocking in, clocking out, not caring about my experience or about the pending birth of my daughter. They stayed for the duration until she was born. I was very grateful for that.

I was grateful for the advice they gave me once my babies were born, for the support they gave me when I was trying to breastfeed and for the consideration that they showed me at other times. It was fantastic. I have to tell you that I did not really understand how important midwives were until I had my babies. They are so incredibly important, and they are absolutely valuable.

I spoke to a friend of mine, Jenny, who is a nurse, in preparation for this speech. One of the things she said to me was that when you commence a shift, you prioritise your plan of care for your allocated patient load. If you have too many patients, the time per patient is compromised. That is absolutely right, and that is absolutely what this legislation will remove. If you are in a medical or surgical ward, you have to check vital signs and do narcotic infusion checks half-hourly. You have to manage things like pain, nausea, respiratory depression, cardiac arrest and other issues.

The time that you need to respond to patient and family questions and concerns can be considerable. If you are overstretched, if there are not enough nurses and too many patients, you are not able to manage these things properly. You are not able to alleviate patient concerns and you are not able to completely mop up or look after somebody who has vomited all over their sheets. You need to be able to do your job properly, because this is what our nurses and our midwives do; they care about their job and they want to do it properly. They want to deliver the best patient care they possibly can. By enshrining ratios in legislation we can give our support as a government and make sure that nurses and midwives are able to deliver on what they are committed to doing.

Nurses also have to deal with really emotional, difficult situations where patients are dying, where patients are confused or where patients are aggressive. This can take time. If a nurse or midwife is going to deal with these situations properly and responsibly, they will take their time. Nurse-to-patient ratios should never be underestimated. It is sad that the previous government underestimated that and that it underestimated how important nurse-to-patient and midwife-to-patient ratios are. The coalition government dramatically underestimated that and let that fight go on for far too long.

My friend Jenny also said:

It is only when people are sick or a family member is unwell that nurses are truly appreciated as they see us running around. If you have never been a patient, thank goodness, but that would mean that our day providing care safely and compassionately is an unknown. A nurse's registration and the life of a dependent patient can never be compromised.

That is exactly right. It is our role in government to make sure that patients' safety and health care is never compromised. I am glad this government is standing by our nurses, standing by our midwives and delivering on its commitment to enshrine the ratios.

We also need to consider job satisfaction, high levels of burnout and issues with patient safety. The more we push our nurses, the harder we expect them to work and the more stress we put them under without enshrining nurse-to-patient ratios, the tougher their job is going to be and the harder it is going to be for them to deliver adequate or even good patient care.

Mr J. Bull — It's not a bargaining chip.

Ms WARD — The member for Sunbury is absolutely right; it is not a bargaining chip, and it should never be politicised. Nursing is highly professionalised, and this legislation reflects the value this government places on the health care provided by nurses, midwives and, as we have seen, paramedics.

Before I finish I would also like to say I am incredibly disappointed that not only has the opposition in the past politicised nurse-to-patient ratios, it has also politicised belonging to a union. It is absolutely outrageous that the opposition thinks it is a sin to join a union, to be part of a collective that can help you stand up and be counted and ensure that your workplace rights are protected. In the case of nurses that also means that the patients you care for are protected.

I dare any member of the opposition to stand up and call a nurse a thug because he or she is a member of a union and believes that belonging to a collective gives them the strength to bargain for better outcomes for themselves and their patients. I would bet any money that those opposite would never have the courage to do that to a nurse or midwife. But they are willing to throw that insult at other union members, and they should be ashamed. Every Victorian has the right to be a member of a union, to stand up and be counted. They have every right to collectively argue, bargain and campaign for improved workplace conditions. In conclusion, I commend this bill to the house.

Business interrupted under sessional orders.