Safe Patient Care (Nurse to Patient and Midwife to Patient Ratios) Bill 2015

Mr  J. BULL (Sunbury) — Before I begin my remarks I want to acknowledge the contribution made by the previous member. She always conducts herself with great heart, and her contribution was very much from the heart. That is the type of member she is. I just want to acknowledge that.

It gives me great pleasure to speak today on the Safe Patient Care (Nurse to Patient and Midwife to Patient Ratios) Bill 2015. As we have heard from a number of speakers, predominantly on this side of the house, the bill seeks to enshrine in law the ratio of nurses to patients to ensure that we provide not only the best possible care for patients in our hospitals across Victoria but also an improved working environment for our valued nurses.

This is a bill that I know many members feel very strongly about; it is a bill that I feel very strongly about. I have grew up in a family of hardworking, dedicated and passionate nurses. My sister has spent many years working in hospital emergency departments as a nurse at both the Northern Hospital and recently the Epworth Hospital, and my aunties, Karen and Jenny, have built their careers around a simple desire to care for and improve the lives of people in our communities. That desire has continued to shine through in their children. My cousins, Emma and Kate, have chosen to pursue nursing careers, and family members Melanie and Ben work as Victorian paramedics. As members will understand, the working conditions of nurses have therefore long been discussed in our household. Jenny in particular has fought exceptionally hard and has told us many stories of the fights she has undertaken over many years for improved working conditions.

Today we have a chance to improve the lives of our nurses and those of patients who attend our hospitals. This is a government that values its nurses, its hospitals and health care. One of the great things that I believe defines us as a nation is our access to affordable and quality health care. It is my belief that as good as doctors are — and I have a tremendous respect for the job they do — nurses are the heart of our hospitals.

I want to reflect on some my own experiences and also some I have had with loved ones. As previous speakers have outlined to the house, when you walk into a hospital — and you are there most of the time for serious reasons — you want to feel comfortable and know that you are going to receive the best care and the best treatment possible. It is therefore very important that the government support in every way it can our health care system, our hospital system and our nurses in the very important job they do.

Sadly, I lost a great friend of mine earlier this year. He spent many years in and out of hospital during his short but very passionate 28 years, and I have to say that each and every time the phone rang and we went into the children’s hospital to see him, the nurses there were outstanding.

The care and compassion they showed for both him and his family were outstanding.

If we look at some statistics across the state in regard to nursing and midwifery, there are 92 000 nurses and midwives registered in Victoria, with 13 430 registered as midwives and 1149 nurses or midwives per 100 000 population. As we know, in Victoria nursing and midwifery are female-dominated professions, with 90.6 per cent of nurses and midwives being female and 9.4 per cent male. It is fantastic to see male nurses, and I certainly expect that number to increase. The average age of nurses and midwives in Victoria is 43.8 years. There are just under 50 000 actively involved within our public health system. We know nurses and midwives make up a significant section of the Victorian working community, and we know we have 87 public hospitals, public health services, publicly operated hospitals or multipurpose centres in Victoria.

If we look at the statistics, and they are startling in many respects, we see that 415 000 patients were admitted to Victorian hospitals between April and June 2015, and 234 000 of those admissions were for same-day treatment. We can see the number of patients admitted to hospitals and the high demands that are placed on nurses every single day they go to work. Speaking to Karen, Jenny, Kirstin and many of the nurses in the Sunbury community, it is clear that the workload is high, and the government stands united with nurses in saying that this bill removes the bargaining chip that can often be used in enterprise bargaining agreements (EBAs) by enshrining in legislation nurse-to-patient ratios. That is a very important thing.

The government has consulted widely on this legislation, and it is well supported both in my community of Sunbury and across the state. At a peak level the draft bill was put before the Australian Nursing & Midwifery Federation and the Victorian Hospitals Industrial Association, both representing our public hospitals. Feedback from both parties has been incorporated into the bill. Consultation has also occurred regarding the principles and direction of the bill with key stakeholders, including the Victorian Healthcare Association and Leading Age Services Australia. In addition to that, the chief executive officers and chief nursing and midwifery officers at Victorian public hospitals were actively consulted in the drafting of this bill. There will be ongoing consultation with Court Services Victoria in relation to compliance and enforcement.

We know there are three key elements to this bill. Firstly, it provides a minimum nurse-to-patient and midwife-to-patient ratio within public hospitals, replicating the arrangement contained in the enterprise bargaining agreement. Secondly, it includes other important elements of the enterprise bargaining agreement that relate to the interpretation of the ratios. These include the skill mix of staff that can be utilised to fulfil prescribed ratios and provisions whereby employers or employees can propose and negotiate various ratios. Again these are replicated, so in practical terms the government understands that many of the ratios are already in place today, but this bill is about the protection and the support of nurses so that, as I mentioned earlier, these cannot be brought into question at the time of EBA negotiations. Lastly, the bill introduces a compliance and enforcement regime under the jurisdiction of the Magistrates Court, as the jurisdiction of the Fair Work Commission and Federal Court will no longer be relevant once, I expect, the ratios are removed or become dormant within the enterprise bargaining agreement.

If we look at the transitional arrangements, we see that in cases where there are specific higher staffing arrangements already in place that have been the subject of a formal written agreement about the staffing of a ward that has been made with a person entitled to make that agreement, these arrangements will continue to apply instead of or in addition to the ratio within the bill — that is, as we move forward, the practicality of the day-to-day work of nurses will be protected under this measure.

This is a government that values its nurses, a government that values its hospitals and a government that values health care. I commend the Minister for Health on her diligence, her hard work in this space and her commitment to the hundreds of thousands of nurses who each and every day perform what is a vital and most important job for the community. This nation and the great state of Victoria are extremely privileged to have the health system we currently have, but we must fight for that and ensure that each and every day we are reviewing the system to ensure that it not only continues in the way it has but improves over the long term. With those remarks, I commend the bill to the house.