18 February 2022

ACT confirms implementation of nurse-to-patient ratios already underway after NSW strike

| Lottie Twyford
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Clinical nurse

The ACT Government says the implementation of nurse-to-patient ratios has just begun after nurses over the border went on strike this week over pay and conditions. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

After nurses over the border went on strike this week over pay and working conditions, the ACT Government has confirmed that the local implementation of nurse-to-patient ratios has begun.

Minister for Health Rachel Stephen-Smith said on Wednesday (16 February) the ACT had commenced phase one of the implementation of minimum nurse and midwife-to-patient ratios earlier this year with a view to this being completed by the end of the financial year.

Ratios will be implemented across medical, surgery and mental health wards. Generally, one nurse will be assigned to every four patients.

Ms Stephen-Smith said an additional 50 nurses had already been put on at Canberra Hospital and Calvary Hospital earlier this year to help meet ratios.

By the end of this financial year, another 40 nurses will be put on so the first stage of ratios can be implemented.

Rachel Stephen-Smith

Minister for Health Rachel Stephen-Smith said the first phase of the policy will be implemented by the end of this financial year. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

The ACT Government says it’s working hand-in-hand with the Australian Midwifery and Nursing Federation (AMNF) about how the next stage of the plan will be implemented.

These will likely be more complex, Ms Stephen-Smith said, as it will relate to more complex wards like emergency departments.

The ACT branch of the union has been contacted for comment.

However, according to a pamphlet issued by the organisation in 2018, 95 per cent of all nurses and midwives supported the implementation of mandatory minimum nurse-to-patient ratios.

According to the AMNF ACT, every additional patient added to a nurse’s workload over four patients can lead to a 7 per cent increased risk of the patient dying within 30 days of rescue and to a 7 per cent increased risk of failure to rescue.

The NSW branch says an appropriate nurse-to-patient ratio is one nurse to three patients in emergency departments and one nurse to four patients on a ward.

They say this is both clinically proven and financially viable.

READ ALSO Children admitted to adult ward as teen mental health unit delayed until 2023

Thousands of nurses in NSW went on their first strike in a decade earlier this week, despite a ruling from the Industrial Commission on Monday that the strike should not go ahead.

Around 30 rallies took place across the state in Sydney, Yass, Bega and many other towns, with nurses alleging their current working conditions were unsustainable and the pandemic had pushed a stretched system to breaking point.

Skeleton staff remained in hospitals to treat patients.

According to Yass nurse Paul Haines, 99 per cent of nurses around the state confirmed they supported the strike action.

“We as nurses have got a professional responsibility to advocate for safe patient care,” he said.

Mr Haines said a lack of a suitable pay rise for nurses felt like “a kick in the teeth” after two years of working in PPE and exposing themselves and their families to the virus.

Ms Stephen-Smith said the government and health authorities have acknowledged the pressure being faced by the health system and the workforce, although she noted the ACT’s hospitals had “perhaps not been as intense as in NSW”.

“We know that people have been working extraordinarily hard and at some points there have been very large numbers of absences from the workplace with people who have COVID-19 or people who have been exposed,” Ms Stephen-Smith explained.

READ ALSO ACT’s public hospitals still languishing: Productivity Commission report

She also noted the ACT had not chosen to freeze the wages of nurses and other healthcare workers as “some other jurisdictions did”.

NSW implemented a controversial freeze on public sector wages in 2020, which was lifted in June 2021.

“We have continued to support our frontline workers, nurses included,” Ms Stephen-Smith said.

It had been a 2020 Labor election promise to implement nurse-to-patient ratios in the ACT if they were re-elected.

They also pledged to hire at least 400 extra healthcare workers, of which 200 would be nurses.

Ms Stephen-Smith said she was proud to implement this election promise.

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