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The Value of Nurses and Midwives in our community

The Lismore App

Lara Leahy

14 May 2024, 9:00 PM

The Value of Nurses and Midwives in our community

The NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association (NSWNMA) are pursuing a 15% pay rise and improvements to conditions in the states public hospitals. This is in an effort to bolster a deflated workforce, and Lismore in particular are feeling the effects of a stretched health system.

The NSWNMA wants the state government to comply with their requests, “in order to rebuild the public sector workforce after years of wage suppression under previous governments.”

NSWNMA General Secretary Shaye Candish said, “A 15% pay increase was justified and necessary in the current economic climate.”

The improved conditions that NSWNMA are seeking include;

  • a 30% penalty rate for night shifts,
  • increasing sick leave to 20 days,
  • 100% salary packaging,
  • an increase for midwives working in midwifery group practice,
  • better work-life balance with consecutive rostered days off, and no changes to published rosters unless consulted.

There is concern about the correct amount of staffing to care for patients, called a nurse-to-patient ratio. In May 2023, the Safe Staffing Levels Taskforce was established with key leaders from the NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association (NSWNMA), NSW Health, and local health districts. It has recommended the adoption of an additional 2,480 full time equivalent staff to accommodate the recommendations.

This will apply across the five agreed clinical areas of emergency departments, intensive care units, medical/surgical and mental health wards, maternity and multi-purpose services, allowing the government to complete its Safe Staffing policy. 

In Lismore and Tweed, nursing and staffing numbers are hit particularly hard. Michael Whaites, the NSWNMA Assistant general secretary is a midwife, and is familiar with the situation in Lismore. Michael says,”The Northern Rivers area have two major problems - accommodation is difficult to come by, and the same positions in Queensland receive higher wages. This makes working a little further north, more attractive.”

The exact figures of staffing requirements needed in Lismore are difficult to define, “People move from one job to another in health. They might move from one particular ward to another, they go to private practise, or they might leave health altogether. 

“These figures change so often, the exact figures will be calculated when the positions are to be filled. Once accepted, it will take a number of years to roll out, and we are focusing on the major Emergency Department staff levels initially.” 

Despite the lack of figures, the shortage of midwives in Lismore is a concern. It isn’t an easy role to fill, but passion for the work keeps people in the industry vested. Bron is a midwife who worked in the Public Health system before leaving to pursue private practice.

“I worked in the public system for a long time, but felt like I could work in a better way to use the full scope of my skills and provide continuity of care.” 

Bron opened up the Lismore Birth House and ran it for 7 years before having to close it for fear of burn out, “You are on call 24/7. And to practise privately, there is a lot of red tape. No other health care professional is held to such high standards of accountability. To practise, you need to become an “endorsed midwife” and 100% of midwives are audited in Australia.”

Bron explains that the financial benefit is about the same in both systems, but as a private practitioner she had the potential to earn more. She says, “An increase in wages for midwives in the public system will benefit everyone. We have been underpaid for such an essential service, for such a long time.”

The industry is pushing for it. Michael Whaites said, “Labor committed to implementing safe staffing levels during this term of office across the five clinical areas.

“We need to see the NSW government commit to fully funding this important workforce initiative within this term of government. While we welcome the start of Safe Staffing Levels in hospital emergency departments this year, current funding means we won’t see it rolled out across all wards and units in every public hospital.

“It’s simple, NSW nurses and midwives deserve more in 2024.”

The public sector pay and conditions claim was overwhelmingly endorsed by NSWNMA members during a vote conducted last month, and has been served on the Ministry of Health. The current Public Health System Nurses’ and Midwives’ (state) Award is due to expire on 30 June.

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