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Valuing our Health Workers

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Tuesday, 31 May 2022

Tags: Health, State Budget

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Mr Speaker, we were very surprised to read the Budget and see the underinvestment in Health this year. There is no doubt that the Premier and Minister for Health has made some very significant contributions in a number of areas and they are welcome, but what is missing is the sort of investment that very important healthcare worker organisations like the ANMF have been calling for for a number of years now.

As other members have spoken about, those areas are especially in valuing the work and properly compensating the workers who every day care for us when we are in the greatest need. Nurses and midwives are currently working overtime and double shifts on a regular basis because there are not enough permanent staff in the nursing pool and working with ratios which, according to the best national healthcare standards we have, are too high to ensure the best possible health outcomes that can be provided to patients if the proper ratios are met.

We have an enduring situation in Tasmania. It has been going on for a long time, but under this Government, over the last eight years, nothing has improved. This Government came into office in 2014 scorning the Labor-Greens government during 2008 following the global financial crisis for having, in their words, created a broken health system, but they have taken the health system of the state they were in charge of in 2014 and ground it into the ground even further.

The situation with paramedics in Ambulance Tasmania and the situation with nurses turning up for shifts and making them stay on for double shifts is absolutely unsupportable. This is not news to the Minister for Health and it was not news to the previous minister for health, Michael Ferguson, but what is very disappointing and incredibly insulting to nurses is that the Health minister and now Premier has not taken the opportunity, on the back of the good work in goodwill that has been done by the ANMF and other health organisations, to look at investment in the workforce.

The recommendation that has been clearly made is that we are desperately failing in Tasmania and we need to have a long-term pathway for recruitment and for retaining the excellent healthcare workers we have. At the moment we are totally reliant on overtime and agency staff. It is affecting morale terribly and COVID-19 has made the pressures graver than they were.

The Greens consulted with stakeholder groups widely before the 2021 election and what they told us was that unless we have a plan for recruitment and training and retention of staff that has to include appropriate pay and other incentives, we will never be able to keep our beautiful staff here in Tasmania. I believe the minister mentioned before that the department has been recruiting two staff a day for the last two months -

Mr Rockliff - Twenty months.

Dr WOODRUFF - Twenty months. That is in a workforce of 12 175 and the point is how many people have left? We want to know what the actual increase is in the pool. The evidence of nurses and midwives, who are on the wards every day, is that it is not having any effect at all on their working conditions; the ratios of nurses to patients; the amount of overtime that is still being required; and the casualisation of the nursing pool.

We clearly do not have a plan that is supported by our nurses and midwives' union, the ANMF, which is threatening industrial action. The Greens showed that it was possible to prioritise the funding and the investment that is required for our long-term future. We did that last year in our alternative Budget. We listened to the AMNF, and funded 25 clinical educators and 50 clinical coaches because these are the people that are needed to support early graduate nurses and midwives and to continue to upskill existing ones.

We also funded 600 new graduate nurses and 120 permanent pool staff of nurses and midwives, so there is no requirement - except in extreme circumstances - for double shifts or working overtime. These are the sorts of conditions that states on the mainland are increasingly employing in their state hospitals. That means there will be a gradual erosion in our nursing pool, as people, given the cost of living and price of housing in Tasmania, will understandably need to move interstate to be able to support themselves, for their own survival and their family's survival.

When 120 000 people are living in poverty in Tasmania, and you have nurses and midwives not being well paid for the work that they do it, it is understandable that we will be losing people if we do not up the amount of support that we have. It is critical that the Government rethinks the investment into nurses and midwives.