Question time: nurse to patient ratios
7th August 2018
Mr GREG PIPER (Lake Macquarie) (15:04:05): My question is directed to the Minister for Health. Given the inarguable importance of nurses to our healthcare system, what will the Government do to ensure that nurse-to-patient ratios in New South Wales are increased to support those healthcare professionals to deliver world?class care, particularly in regional areas?
The SPEAKER: If members are not interested in the subject matter, they can leave of their own accord rather than have me eject them. I remind members that several of them are on three calls to order.
Mr BRAD HAZZARD (Wakehurst—Minister for Health, and Minister for Medical Research) (15:04:46): I thank the member for Lake Macquarie for his question. He is a very good local member and is always respectful in his endeavours on behalf of his electorate. I appreciate that and value having worked with him in the health area and other areas.
Mr Greg Piper: Kangaroos come to mind.
Mr BRAD HAZZARD: Kangaroos was one of those areas and we worked well together on that issue, thank you. But we will leave kangaroos aside for the moment. I ask the member for Lake Macquarie to not believe the rubbish coming from the Leader of the Opposition. As I said in my previous answer, the good folk of Wagga Wagga were able to identify 10 serious reasons why one should not trust the Labor Party. As late as November last year, the then President of the Australian Medical Association (NSW), Professor Brad Frankum, said that if the Opposition wanted to work with doctors and the medical fraternity the most important thing was to be trusted, but that association did not trust the shadow Minister. The Leader of the Opposition has kept the shadow Minister in place. It is about trust, but ratios are an important part of the staffing of hospitals.
At the outset, I acknowledge the good work of not only the member for Lake Macquarie but also that of the nurses and midwives across this State. This Government has appointed nearly 8,000 new nurses in the past few years. I have had the pleasure of working with the NSW Nurses and Midwives' Association. On behalf of the nurses I acknowledge that the association has been doing a good job and that its general secretary, Brett Holmes, has spoken to me on a regular basis. As he and I have acknowledged, we do not always agree on every issue, as you would expect if you are in government. But he speaks honestly and openly about the issues to do with nursing. To the member for Lake Macquarie I say this: There are ratios. That is a logical way of working across our hospital system. The ratios determine the number of staff in each ward—members would understand that there are differing requirements.
For example, an emergency department is much more flexible. You need to be fleet of foot to work out the staffing, depending on who or how many come through the door. It is different for a general ward or surgical ward. The statistics would indicate more clearly the number of staff needed. I have been working with the association and I share its view that there should be ratios in hospitals—and there are. Its definition of "ratio" is a little different, but our definition, which the Government supports and which the Opposition also supported when it was in government, is one based on nurses linked to patient hours. That is the ratio. That is exactly what it is. It is flexible and works well, according to the advice that I have received from department officials. Having said that, I have asked department officials—as late as yesterday when I was sitting with one of the deputy secretaries—to work through those issues and to make sure that there is appropriate nursing across all 15 local health districts.
The nurses association shared that perhaps some local health districts do not necessarily apply what the Government believes should be applied. For example, sometimes local management might find it difficult to get a registered nurse, so it may appoint an assistant nurse when a registered nurse is on leave or is sick. The Government does not support that. I do not find that acceptable as Minister. I have put that in the strongest terms by attending each of the quarterly meetings with the chief executives of the 15 local health districts.
I have also put that very strongly to the chairs of the boards of the local health districts. As late as yesterday afternoon I was asking—again, with the deputy secretary who is involved—about what messages we are hearing back from them as to how they will make sure that that does not continue. I can promise you that the ratios are well and truly locked in. I say again: I would not trust Mr Foley on this. Mr Foley, in his last policy document, said he would give ratios in paediatric wards and emergency departments only. Emergency departments do not need them; they are already staffed appropriately. We are working through issues in paediatric wards, and general medical and surgical areas. I will continue to do that.
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