11 October 2022

Union dismissive of $8.75 million 'well-being' fund for healthcare workers

| Lottie Twyford
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Matthew Daniel

Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation ACT branch secretary Matthew Daniel is unimpressed by the government’s announcement of an $8.75 million well-being fund. Photo: Lottie Twyford.

The appropriateness of an $8.75 million fund to support the well-being of ACT health workers has been called into question by the union.

Ostensibly the money will be used for well-being activities and initiatives “after an incredibly difficult few years” with increased demand, workforce shortages and the pressure of COVID-19.

Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said any proposed activities would be co-designed with the health workforce and individual teams across the system would be able to propose initiatives they believe would have the most impact and benefit.

“[The pandemic] has contributed to high levels of distress and fatigue, that’s why we’ve been looking at ways we can further support teams to recover from the difficulties of the past few years and build safe and healthy workplaces for the future,” Ms Stephen-Smith said.

ACT Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith.

Minister for Health Rachel Stephen-Smith acknowledged the significant strain healthcare staff had been under in recent years. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

It’s the co-design element that is most of concern to Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation ACT branch secretary Matthew Daniel.

“It appears that it puts the responsibility for well-being back into the hands of workers,” he said.

“It shouldn’t have to be on them to come up with solutions to the problems when the real issues are systemic.”

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Mr Daniel referenced widely reported-on issues relating to staffing levels, safety and culture as big-ticket items which needed addressing.

“I’m just not sure this is going to address any of those issues we have been talking to the government about for a long time,” Mr Daniel told Region.

“What our members are telling us is the government needs to stop the bleeding of healthcare numbers from the jurisdiction.”

He noted the intensive care unit was continuing to lose staff in recent months after various “deep dives” into the culture of the area were being conducted.

“We know some of those staff members went interstate … we must stem that flow,” he said.

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Reviews by law firms are underway in the cardiology department and intensive care unit at the hospital.

High-profile court cases have also recently been made public.

In August, Canberra Health Services confirmed some cardiology services had to be scaled back after senior staff members were stood down following allegations of bullying and misconduct.

Last year, CHS CEO Dave Peffer took a public stand against any staff members who were “consistently demonstrating poor behaviour”, warning they would be shown the door.

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A damning 2019 report on staff culture in the Territory’s public health system found that 12 per cent of staff had been subject to physical harm, sexual harassment or abuse, and more than half of these incidents were perpetrated by a colleague.

The latest annual review, made public last November, found little had changed regarding bullying at CHS.

The ACT Government recently rejected calls from the union to pay nurses and midwives a one-off pandemic payment, despite similar schemes having been adopted by NSW and Victoria. In July, the Health Minister told the union the government would instead focus on increasing wages during enterprise bargaining.

That process is underway.

Ms Stephen-Smith said organisation and Territory-wide activities aimed at improving staff retention, culture and well-being across the whole system were also being developed in collaboration with the workforce.

She said a national campaign to recruit nurses and midwives to work in the ACT’s public health system had been launched in September.

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