21 February 2022

Nurses need our care - and a decent wage

| Sally Hopman
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Holding an old hand

When a helping hand for hospital patients can be just the tonic. Photo: Sally Hopman.

I’ve had reason to watch nurses a lot recently. I’ve watched them work; I also wanted to see what they did when they weren’t working – but that’s rare.

I discovered most can’t remember the last time they drank hot coffee – it’s always cold by the time they get to it.

I watched them for hours in one of Sydney’s biggest hospitals. There were four patients in the room and there was never less than two nurses in there with them. I saw them change nappies on people old enough to be their grandparents, patiently feed them and mop up the dribbles and placate one patient who ripped out her catheter and threw it at the nurse.

They showered people whose bodies were so wrinkled they looked as if they could do with an iron, listened to patients as they talked about something that never happened a million years ago, then found time to talk to loved ones as if their relative were the only person who ever mattered.

I watched as some of these grateful family members left chocolates, flowers and cards at the nurses’ station. Not for the patients, but for the nurses who looked after them. Sweet gestures, but surely just a drop in the Pacific.

Watching nurses at work, and what they deal with every shift, you just want to give them the world – and then some.

READ ALSO Caring and toughness test for nurses in the 1970s

A couple of days later, I watched staff in a nursing home on what has to be the worst floor of the building. It’s the one that looks like those films where old, dazed people sit slumped in wheelchairs together in a room with the television blaring about something no-one understands, as the sense of despair drowns everything else out.

The nurses quietly, patiently, walked about, picking up dropped shawls, dirty tissues, bits of mangled food. Almost always with a smile or at least a gentle greeting for patients.

Then I saw nurses from one of the smallest hospitals in the country, Yass, march down the main street in what had to be a first on a variety of counts. Nurses don’t do that. Nurses in country towns where they know everyone else, never, ever do that.

The town’s new mayor marched with them. He hadn’t told the media he was going to and tried to avoid being noticed – just one of the many onlookers who recognised that decent conditions and remuneration for nurses should be a given.

People clapped and cheered them. To observers, the strikers looked tired, unhappy and almost guilty. You got the feeling that going on strike was about as last resort as you can get. They didn’t want to do it but, when you’re exhausted, there aren’t a lot of options.

I know of one nurse in particular who, when she’s got an hour or two off between a double shift, doesn’t go home to sleep. She goes into the local Vinnies and sorts clothes. It helps, she says.

The rest of us can only imagine how hard the life of a nurse is. They certainly don’t do it for the money or the chocolates. Seems they do it because they are the best of souls. They don’t want our sympathy, our platitudes, our approval. In these days where money doesn’t talk it swears, the currency should at the very least, represent their worth.

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Capital Retro6:30 pm 21 Feb 22

This says it all: “Many people turn to nursing because it is a challenging and rewarding career. Some are also attracted to this profession for the flexibility, and the stable income it provides.”

The wages revealed indicate they are on a level with what APS workforce is.

I thought nurses get paid a reasonable wage. What evidence is there that they are not paid well ?

Sad but the simple truth is we live in a society that does not value these people.

Nurses, aged care workers, mental health workers, social workers, psychologists.
Many of these professions require a University degree to qualify and once you graduate then leads you to a job that pays chicken feed.

All of these professions would be far better off quitting and getting a job in the government helping to design policy for better outcomes. Stupid I know but you are far better rewarded talking about doing the work than actually doing the work!

Marcin Lazarowicz5:10 pm 20 Feb 22

What’s a strange time that expects to reward someone only because she/ he behave like human!

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