Safe Patient Care (Nurse to Patient and Midwife to Patient Ratios) Amendment Bill 2018 Second Reading

5 Feb 2019

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Parliament

 I rise to speak on behalf of the Victorian Greens in support of the Safe Patient Care (Nurse to Patient and Midwife to Patient Ratios) Amendment Bill 2018. The reason I am speaking on behalf of the Greens is that our new Greens health spokesperson, the newly elected member for Brunswick, unfortunately cannot speak yet. He is working very hard on his inaugural speech, and I am sure as a clinician and researcher he will bring a lot of expertise and enthusiasm to the health portfolio. I am sure if he could speak on this bill, he would, but as I said he is working on his inaugural speech, which will be delivered tomorrow.

In preparing for this bill, I was familiarised with the 1986 nurses strike, which was when in 1986 nurses went on strike for 50 days over cuts by the then Cain Labor government—over wages and conditions and, of course importantly and relevant to this bill, over staff-to-patient ratios. They went on strike until they were successful and their demands were met. I think that strike and then decades later this bill are testament to the fight, to the advocacy and to the persistence of our nurses to ensure that we have a world-class health system here in Victoria. Certainly that passion for a quality public health system is something that the Greens share, whether it is in preventative health, community health, community mental health, dental health or other health areas in this state. That is something that we share an absolute passion for and something that I think, to the nurses’ credit, they fight for. They work hard to get those results on behalf of patients in Victoria.

For the nurses this fight has continued, to make sure that ratios were not just renegotiated in each enterprise bargaining agreement but are now fixed in law. Ensuring that we have sufficient nurses and midwives to care for patients in our public hospitals is absolutely critical to this. It is absolutely crucial that when people present at emergency or at a birthing suite or are admitted due to stroke or serious illness there is an adequate ratio of nurses or midwives to patients to ensure their thorough and timely care. On a personal level, my wife and I went through the public health system for the birth of our two children, born in the last term of Parliament. Certainly we were very grateful for and impressed by the care she and our babies received from midwives both at Sandringham and Parkville hospitals. Previously the Greens strongly backed the introduction of nurse-to-midwife patient ratios back in 2015, which was certainly very important following past attempts to reduce nurse-to-patient and midwife-to-patient ratios through enterprise agreement negotiations.

However, unfortunately the legislation had some loopholes in in it whereby ratios allowed nurses and midwives to be faced with work and patient loads well beyond what was envisaged because there were mixed wards or because there were one or two extra patients beyond the specified ratios in the legislation. Acknowledging that this was never the intention of the act, certainly we are pleased that this bill will close those loopholes to ensure that our nurses and midwives are not overworked and that there is adequate staff to meet patients’ needs. We are also pleased to see that ratios in palliative care, in birthing suites, in special care nurseries and in emergency departments will be updated. It is disappointing that we were not able to pass this legislation in the last term but it is certainly good that it is the first bill up in this new Parliament, because this will have a positive impact on the lives of patients and on the nurses and midwives that care for them. And it is certainly important to ensure that existing ratios stay up to date with best care practices and service models, technological change and innovation in relation to complex patient care.

We acknowledge that the positive impact occurs when there are increased nursing hours per patient and a higher percentage of registered nurses on wards. We will see less adverse events, patient stay lengths will be reduced, there will be lower patient mortality rates and patients will have better continuity of care and improved health care equity across all sectors. Our nurses and midwives provide such an important role in care from birth right through to palliative care. For anyone who has spent time in hospital, we can often remember those fabulous nurses and midwives who have cared for us or our loved ones. So I want to put on record the Greens acknowledgement and thanks for the irreplaceable services that nurses provide to our community of Victoria. The Greens fully support this legislation.

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