Nurses, Midwives and Safe Care Ratios
Hypocrisy in politics knows no limits.
The last business debated in the Legislative Council on Thursday, 20 September, its last day of sitting before the election, was the Safe Patient Care (Nurse to Patient and Midwife to Patient Ratios) Amendment Bill 2018.
This Bill was just one of twenty one government bills remaining on the Notice Paper of the Legislative Council, having been passed by the Legislative Assembly but not receiving sufficient priority from the government to be debated to conclusion in the Council.
The Bill was supported by the Liberal National opposition, and by the cross bench.
One flaw in the Bill, that the government simply refused to acknowledge to me, despite my best efforts to get an answer, was a failure to treat midwives and nurses equally in relation to the staffing of special care nurseries. The Australian College of Midwives had been lobbying the Minister for health on this matter since 13 October 2017 without receiving any satisfactory response.
The Liberal National opposition was proposing to amend the Bill to remedy this problem.
I sought advice on this question directly from Ann Kinnear, the chief executive officer of the Australian College of Midwives, from constituents who are experienced midwives working in special care nurseries and from the Victorian Branch of the Australian Nursing & Midwifery Federation (ANMF).
The ANMF had no rational response to the concerns raised by the midwives. While seeking to enshrine other ratios in law it proposed that midwives working in special care nurseries continue to rely on non-statutory local agreements for job security and recognition.
Then ANMF would not answer whether it had the support of the midwives it is supposed to represent for this position.
The ANMF clearly had no intention of calling out the Labor Minister for Health for her failure to have resolved this problem before bringing the Bill to Parliament. Nor would it support dealing with the Bill early enough for an amendment to be moved in the Council and, if passed, submitted to the Assembly.
Its play book seem to have been dictated by the Andrews Labor government.The Labor government seems to have intentionally delayed debate on the Bill until six hours after the Legislative Assembly had packed up for the parliamentary term at 5.33pm that Thursday.
At midnight the Legislative Council declined to support a government motion to keep sitting. This is simply normal practice. After all with twenty one bills on the Notice Paper a line has to be drawn somewhere. It was entirely the responsibility of the Andrews Labor government to ensure that its priority bills were dealt with before this deadline. Its actions show that the Safe Patient Care (Nurse to Patient and Midwife to Patient Ratios) Amendment Bill 2018.
My face now appears, with that of nineteen other MPs, on a gallery of villains poster produced by the ANMF in its subservience to the Labor Party cause.
I am proud of my record in Parliament in relation to health issues, especially through initiating and participating in an important inquiry which identified gaps in our perinatal care system.
“This inquiry very quickly became a focus and a very important process that we had to go through here in Victoria. Through this inquiry we heard from mothers, health practitioners, academics, researchers, departments and others on the current situation relating to the health and wellbeing of mothers and their babies during the perinatal period.
“We found that perinatal services can and so often do provide an exceptional quality of care, but we also saw some serious gaps which have developed. These need to be urgently addressed by the government, whoever they may be next year. These gaps were around the provision of perinatal mental health care, shortages in the perinatal workforce and obvious disparities between metropolitan and regional areas. Quite simply, it is time that we all took care of mothers and their babies in a real way.
“The recommendations in this report are wide and varied, from developing a framework for recurrent funding for existing parenting support groups like Olivia's Place and the Babes Project to prioritising public health promotion campaigns to encourage breastfeeding and from establishing a task force of key stakeholders to create a perinatal mental health plan to ensuring that all pregnant women are screened for anxiety and depression in a meaningful way. There are recommendations which focus specifically on workforce capacity, which is a concern that was raised throughout our hearings, including in regional areas and through submissions as well, and recommendations which focus on the unique gaps identified for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and for culturally and linguistically diverse families.”
I hope I can continue to make a further contribution to improvements in the provision of perinatal care as the Independent member for Werribee, including helping pass the Safe Patient Care (Nurse to Patient and Midwife to Patient Ratios) Amendment Bill 2018 with an appropriate amendment to ensure midwives and nurses are treated equally in relation to the staffing of special care nurseries in accordance with their qualifications and experience.