This package was broadcast on Radio Port Phillip in December 8, 2011.

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Script: ANF Rally

The Australian Nursing Federation held a rally outside Frankston Hospital yesterday, as part of ongoing disputes between the industry and the State government.

ANF supporters, including union staff, nurses, hospital employees, patients and members of the community, gathered for a sausage sizzle at the hospital’s Hastings Rd entrance.

The union is seeking reforms from the Baillieu State government, who are proposing changes to nurse-patient ratios as well as split shifts for nursing staff.

Frankston Hospital Nurse Chris Morgan said there has been a groundswell of support for the ANF’s campaign.

GRAB: Chris Morgan

A lot of the patients that want to wear red, and have been wearing red on the wards, and their families.  As you can see from the support today, and the cars going past, everybody’s tooting and they’re all in support.  We've had very, very minimal complaints.

ANF spokespeople said the campaign primarily advocates safe patient and midwifery care, but Secretary Paul Gilbert said a pay increase was definitely a factor.

GRAB: Paul Gilbert

That was the claim we put up which would have brought Victorian nurses somewhere close to New South Wales – and New South Wales are not the highest paid nurses in Australia.  So that was an aim, to try and get Victorian nurses somewhere near New South Wales.  We’ve never had any wage offer from government at all.  We’ve not even discussed them.  They’ve not even offered us the 2.5 percent.  In fact they said we couldn’t have the 2.5 percent.  So whilst wages aren't the main issue, they are part of the issue.  And it’s obviously insulting to nurses and midwives in our public health system that they’re being offered no wage increase at all. END GRAB.

Nurse Morgan said nurse-patient ratios play a vital role in both the quality of care to patients and the working conditions of nurses.

GRAB: Chris Morgan

Currently on my ward there is four patients to one nurse.  At times it’s three to one.  Throughout the hospital there are different ratios.  But on the whole, it’s four patients to one nurse. END GRAB.

Midwifes from Frankston Hospital, which currently has the Peninsula’s only delivery facilities, said ratios in their department are particularly important.

Mother and child are counted as one, and so there are commonly in excess of eight patients to one nurse in the midwifery unit.

The introduction of split shifts, a measure proposed by the Baillieu government, is also reported to pose potential threats to the quality of care in hospitals.

Nurse Morgan said split shifts will create unfair conditions for nurses.

GRAB: Chris Morgan

They want to bring in short shifts; so a four hour shift, then you go home for five hours and come back and do another four hours.  At the moment it’s seven and a half hours unless you work in nightshift, I think that’s ten, and if you work in ICU – intensive care – then they’re 12 hour shifts.  No young mother can cope with broken shifts. END GRAB.

In addition to shift hour changes and nurse-patient ratio cuts, the Baillieu government are considering the introduction of health care assistants as an alternate to nurses.

Nurse Morgan says the ANF opposes this decision.

GRAB: Chris Morgan

These nurses assistants, I believe, only have a minimum of five weeks’ training, and they want to bring them in onto the acute sector, onto the wards. END GRAB.

Secretary Gilbert said the use of health care assistants risks a reduction in the quality of care hospitals provide.

GRAB: Paul Gilbert

All of the international evidence – and there are scientific studies that absolutely prove this beyond doubt – that patient mortality and patient morbidity rises when you start substituting nurses out of the skill mix in favour of someone else.  You know, there is work that can be done by health assistants, but not in the context of replacing existing nurses or improving staffing levels where they need to be improved.  The government is hell bent on straight up substitution of nurses with health assistants. END GRAB. 

He suggests the use of nursing students who have a level of understanding and industry knowledge to undertake these roles.

GRAB: Paul Gilbert

There are, at any given time, you know, 75 percent of the nurses who, or the student nurses going through university at the moment are working in Kentucky Fried and bars and clubs and restaurants.  We’ve put a proposal where they could be used in a health assistant role and that would give them the capacity to consolidate what they’ve learnt, well what they are learning.  And also, to have a real feel for hospitals before they start working in them.  Regrettably the government has rejected that in favour of a tafe-trained person who had two weeks’ clinical experience to come on the ward and do the work of nurses. END GRAB.

Nurses and union staff invited hospital employers and politicians to join them in discussion at the rally, but they declined the invite.

Nurse Morgan said she was disappointed that they had failed to attend.

GRAB: Chris Morgan

What is their stance at Frankston Hospital?  They’re not letting us know.  Just the fact that they’re not here talking to us tells me they’re not coming down.  And they haven’t attended any of the other hospitals.  And I believe that management is going to get a kick-back from this.  If nurse assistants come, management are going to get the pay increase and nurses are going to leave. END GRAB.

Peninsula Health Public Relations Director John Jukes told RPP the hospital are willing to negotiate with the ANF, but it was inappropriate for them to attend yesterday’s meeting and do so in public.

Secretary Gilbert said the ANF will continue to petition the government to protect the safety and rights of nurses and patients alike.

GRAB: Paul Gilbert

There’ll be a further ANF meeting in December, a state-wide meeting. Members will then get an opportunity to consider what their next step is.  I can say that the anger of our members has not diminished at all, and the confusion amongst the nursing workforce and the community as to what’s going on and why on earth they’d be proposing it hasn't diminished.  So we’ve got a long campaign ahead of us. END GRAB.

Addressing a crowd of at least one hundred, he assured supporters that their campaign would not be abandoned.

GRAB: Paul Gilbert

If the government thinks their strategy is working they’re very, very wrong.  Nurses are very committed.  Nurses will do what they have to do, and this today is obvious evidence of that. END GRAB.