Greens support enshrining Nurse and Midwife ratios in law


Speech in Parliament: The Greens warmly welcome this bill, to say the least. We thank the minister for the detailed briefing we received. We also met with both the union and the Victorian Healthcare Association to discuss this bill. We believe it is highly appropriate that nurse-to-patient and midwife-to-patient ratios be enshrined and protected in our laws. Nurses and midwives have worked hard to achieve appropriate ratios that guarantee minimum numbers of qualified nurses or midwives on each shift to deliver quality, safe patient care and realistic workloads.

In preparing to speak on this bill I looked back on the history of nurses disputes in this state. We can go back to the 1986 strike that was pivotal, when it was said that nurses were no longer going to be handmaidens, yet ratios have been at the heart of every dispute in the 30 years since they have been in place. I think it is time for these issues to be enshrined in legislation rather than having to be negotiated in every enterprise bargaining agreement. Hard-won reform should not be whittled away and should not be subject to enterprise bargaining negotiations. These ratios ensure the ongoing quality of our acute and aged health care, and they should be non-negotiable.

This bill acts to legislate for ratios already in place in the public sector. Specifically the bill requires major metropolitan hospitals to roster safe ratios of one nurse to four patients during day shifts and one nurse to eight patients during night shifts. Different ratios are also in place for maternity units, regional hospitals, special care nurseries, aged care and emergency departments. The new ratios do not apply to public and not-for-profit hospitals, residential aged care and public mental health services not covered by the public sector enterprise bargaining agreement. This bill will also prevent nurse substitution by unregistered health assistants. I believe this is a great step in securing the long-term quality of our health system.

The Greens note that there may be flow-on costs of implementing this bill for some health services, including small and regional hospitals that are currently under ratio. We call on the government to work closely with these health services to ensure that costs are covered and to actively work with these hospitals so they can recruit more staff to cover these shifts.

I am not going to say a lot more, because I think this is a very straightforward bill. It is bringing in something that should have happened years ago. The Greens are extremely pleased that the bill is going to be passed tonight and that in the 2016 enterprise bargaining agreement process ratios will not be an issue and that the actual industrial issues that need to be negotiated will be negotiated.