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‘We have nothing left to give’: Nurses and midwives rally again for better staffing ratios

More than 5,000 nurses, midwives and supporters flooded Macquarie Street and marched to the NSW Parliament yesterday to protest safer working conditions, including better nurse-to-patient ratios.

The rally came on the same day as a 24-hour statewide strike organized by the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association (NSWNMA) after more than 180 NSWNMA branches voted in favor of the action.

“We have seen the injuries and the destruction of COVID. We risked our safety and that of our families. We missed Christmas, we missed New Years. We work 4-hour shifts, we have a break, we come back and work another 4-hour the next day,” said NSWNMA President O’Bray Smith.

“We keep fighting for all of our patients, and now we have nothing left to give,” she said.

Smith also described reports of nurse-to-patient ratios of 1:38 (1 nurse for 38 patients), which is almost ten times higher than ratios of 1:4 in Queensland, Victoria, the Territory of Australian capital and South Australia. All four states and territories are run by Labor governments.

Strike action was planned to ensure that a standard of “life preservation personnel” was maintained for all patients cared for by NSWNMA members.

The strike also comes after there was “no change” from the NSW government following the first strike on February 15.

“The only commitment that was given to us is that they would respond to us,” NSWNMA General Secretary Brett Holmes said. “The Minister [Health Minister Brad Hazzard] made it clear to me that it does not support ratios.

“Since our last strike, there has been no change, no improvement,” NSWNMA Deputy General Secretary Shaye Candish told the crowd. “Just a lot of undervaluing of the critical work you do every day.”

“Rather than talking to nurses and midwives about the solutions needed, we have a government that does politics and a management that binds us together,” Candish said.

Along with improving staffing ratios, nurses and midwives are also demanding a pay rise for all their efforts, especially after more than two years of the pandemic.

“The ‘thanks’ and the applause don’t feed our families, don’t pay the bills,” said Auburn Hospital branch delegate Audrey Figures.

“We started this pandemic when the government was crying out for help. But now we are the ones calling for help, and they are not listening to us,” she said.

The Association also calls for infants to be included in patient counts in maternity wards and for appropriate staffing ratios to be available for midwives.

“On a bad day, you can have 1:12 for the ratio, with just one midwifery assistant or registered nurse,” said Campbelltown Hospital branch member Nichole Flegg.

“If you think these ratios are shocking, remember that in reality these numbers are doubled in maternity. Because in these numbers babies are not counted,” she said.

Protesters also demanded better support for rural hospitals, which are often under-resourced and where staff are forced to work in unsafe conditions.

“We don’t have a doctor there. Virtual doctors treat patients through a TV screen. Doctors certify deaths on a television screen,” said Sarah Webb, a member of the Warren Multipurpose Service Branch.

She also described the emotional toll of her work on rural hospital staff: “Rural nursing is dangerous. We are exhausted. We are forgotten and isolated and just try to survive from shift to shift. We are forced to make life or death decisions every day.

“I’m sick of being the nurse who decides who gets treatment first and who has to wait,” she said in a moving speech.

Yass District Hospital Branch President Paul Haines also described poor working conditions at his workplace: “We have an emergency department run by very junior staff. A hospital that is often run by agency nurses. A hospital where the staff are so exhausted and downcast that many of us are looking for jobs elsewhere.

“We have a hospital that goes from crisis to crisis, without leadership or strategic direction,” he said.

The strike has also called into question the future of the sector, particularly for student nurses and midwives hoping to embark on careers as health practitioners.

“The outlook for nursing is bleak. Many nurses currently in practice are leaving the profession in record numbers, not [safe] nurse-to-patient ratios and lower wage growth (than rising inflation) make nursing in New South Wales a little less attractive,” said Elliot Gregory*, nursing student and student representative of the NSWNMA. Right here.

“The Bachelor of Science in Nursing is an incredibly difficult degree. There are internships that span vacations and sometimes make up an 18-20 week semester…There are times when busy schedules, exams and back-to-back internships combine to make college non-stop” , said Gregory.

“More can be done.”

A statement co-signed by NUS Education Officer Luc Velez, USyd SRC President Lauren Lancaster, UTS Student Association President Anna Thieben and UNSW President , Nayonika Bhattacharya, also declared their support for the striking nurses and midwives: measures taken by the NSWNMA in their fight for better working conditions and standards for the future workplaces of our students.

“As the cohorts of students who will fill these shortages, we expect a government that cares about the future workplaces of students, the future colleagues of our students, and about us students as future essential workers.

*Names have been changed to protect the identity of the individual.

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