SAFE PATIENT CARE (NURSE TO PATIENT AND MIDWIFE TO PATIENT RATIOS) AMENDMENT BILL 2020 – Second Reading Debate

You can watch the video here.

 

I am delighted to be on my feet this morning to speak on the Safe Patient Care (Nurse to Patient and Midwife to Patient Ratios) Amendment Bill 2020 which addresses the policy of areas of public health and public wellbeing, particularly patient safety and the delivery of quality health care. It is an area that I am passionate about. As a former board director of the Ballarat Health Services and former chair of the Ballarat Health Services quality and safety committee, this really is such important legislation that will really help my community of Ballarat. I am also proud to be a member of the Andrews Labor government, which is committed to ensuring Victorians have access to high-quality and safe health care as well as respecting the work of our nurses and midwives. I thank the Minister for Health, the ministerial office and the department for the work that has gone into this bill and welcome the opportunity to make a contribution to this debate. I would like to add that the Minister for Health has done an outstanding job since being appointed to this portfolio, and I want to acknowledge the incredible amount of work she has done alongside the Premier and the chief health officer to protect Victorians during the coronavirus pandemic.

Nurses and midwives have campaigned for these important ratios, and we have just heard from the former health minister, the member for Altona and now the Attorney-General, about the work that went into developing this legislation in consultation with key stakeholders including our nurses and midwives. I wish to thank Lisa Fitzpatrick for her outstanding leadership of the Australian Nursing & Midwifery Federation (ANMF) Victorian branch. I would also like to thank the branch council, organisers, delegates and members of that great union. Locally we have a fantastic ANMF organiser, Allan Townsend, who does an excellent job representing nurses and midwives in Ballarat, as well as many committed delegates including my friend Geoff James whose birthday it is today, so happy birthday to Geoff James.

Nurses and midwives are at the heart of our hospitals and health services, and I would like to take this opportunity to recognise the important work of the ANMF and their members, who have been on the front line caring for our community during this pandemic and putting themselves at risk to save lives. My sister-in-law Christine Coates is a nurse clinician who works at a hospital in the north-east of England. Chris recently contracted COVID-19 while working on the front line at her hospital in the UK. She was very, very unwell, but like many amazing nurses and midwives, as soon as she had recovered, Chris was back at work on the ward, caring for patients and saving lives. I am also very fortunate to have two other sisters-in-law who are nurses in Victoria. Larissa Hill works in Melbourne’s east and Melissa Dickinson works in Geelong, so thank you to those wonderful women for the work that they do.

This bill is another step to providing better and safer health care for Victorians and protecting the working conditions of Victoria’s nurses and midwives. I am so proud that there has never been a government in Victoria more committed to supporting our nurses and midwives than the Andrews Labor government. Before I entered this place in the 58th Parliament of Victoria the Andrews Labor government passed the Safe Patient Care (Nurse to Patient and Midwife to Patient Ratios) Act 2015. The act legislated minimum nurse and midwife staffing in public hospitals to protect minimum workload arrangements for our dedicated nurses and midwives. This was a significant achievement and reflects the Andrews Labor government’s commitment to uphold patient and workforce safety in our public health system.

The important changes we are seeking with this amendment bill will see more nurses and more midwives across the state in medical and surgical wards, in birthing suites, in postnatal wards, in special care nurseries, in geriatric evaluation management, in short-stay units, in rehabilitation and in residential aged care. By guaranteeing the minimum number of qualified nurses or midwives on each shift through patient ratios, and by providing quality health care for every patient, lives will be saved. I am pleased that this amendment bill will create consistency for determining staff numbers on wards and shifts and lead to better outcomes for our nurses and midwives as well as for patients. For example, requiring an additional nurse or midwife in charge in multiple settings, predominantly on the night shift, will reduce clinical risk and better manage overnight workload. This is a positive outcome for all of those involved. Victoria’s 90 000 nurses and midwives are heroes not only during the COVID pandemic but every day of every week of every year. It is a noble and proud profession that deserves our utmost respect and appreciation.

The Andrews Labor government is making sure our nurses and midwives have the support they need to keep providing the care and comfort patients deserve. This legislation is so important as it will ensure safe and high-quality care in a range of clinical settings through improving minimum nursing and midwifery staffing ratios to reflect increasing patient complexity and changing models of care.

I wish to thank all the nurses and midwives who support our expectant mothers in the preparation for their birth and the care they provide for mums and bubs on their arrival in maternity wards across Victoria, particularly at Ballarat Health Services and St John of God Ballarat. More than 1400 babies are born each year at Ballarat Health Services, approximately nine per day. I gave birth to both our children at Ballarat Base Hospital and received excellent perinatal and postnatal care through the midwife clinic, on the maternity ward and through the domiciliary postnatal service. I was pleased to able to participate in the midwife program for both of my pregnancies with minimal contact with obstetricians, as my care was undertaken by and was the responsibility of experienced midwives. I wish to thank the many midwives who supported me during my pregnancies, particularly Tonia, for the excellent care provided in support of me.

Another reason I am pleased to support this amendment bill is that it will safeguard the high quality of maternal and child health services in Victoria through protecting minimum education requirements for our maternal and child health nurses. I wish to acknowledge and thank the many maternal and child health nurses across Ballarat in Bonshaw, in Lucas, in Wendouree and in Central Ballarat—all services operated by the City of Ballarat. Our maternal and child health nurses are registered nurses and registered midwives with additional tertiary qualifications in maternal and child health nursing in preparation for community-based work with families.

It is really interesting; I did some research on this. Ballarat has proudly had a maternal and child health program since 1923, with the aim to reduce infant mortality rates and assess the health of newborns. These very important maternal and child healthcare centres were established because babies were dying particularly in summertime. So why were babies dying in summertime? Because there was no refrigeration for milk. Whilst hygiene is less of an issue today, the need for maternal health centres continues, with a focus on babies’ development and wellbeing and support for new parents.

I certainly benefitted from the support I received from the maternal and child health centre, initially in Mair Street before the relocation of the centre to Girrabanya in Ballarat Central. I would like to especially thank Lyn Hedger, who was my wonderful maternal and child health nurse. Lyn was a long-serving nurse who provided support for Ballarat families and was a highly respected maternal health nurse. Lyn, who has now retired, provided expert advice to many parents in Ballarat, offering her insights and reassurances for anxious and worried new parents struggling with the challenges of a newborn. I cannot even estimate the number of babies weighed and measured by Lyn over her outstanding career. Lyn also closely monitored the mental health and wellbeing of our mums.

I would also like to acknowledge Libby Ford, who is another absolute champion of maternal and child health in Ballarat. She was always so great with advice and reassurance, which is certainly what new mums need. Thanks to maternal and child health nurses like Lyn and Libby for their great leadership and their support for generations of Ballarat mums.

And if the chamber would indulge me, I would like to wish the member for Euroa all the best for the arrival of her baby, as well as offer my best wishes to the member for Burwood and his wife, Jessica, for the upcoming arrival of their baby.

In closing, the Andrews Labor government has the track record of delivering for Victorians in health care, and this will continue well into the future. We will make sure that all Victorians have access to quality health services that are patient centred and safe. This bill will improve nursing and midwifery workforce numbers in our public hospitals and ensure our maternal and child health nurses are optimally trained to deliver the best child outcomes. I commend this bill to the house.