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

Ms GRALEY (Narre Warren South) — It is a pleasure to rise this afternoon to speak on this landmark legislation, the Safe Patient Care (Nurse to Patient and Midwife to Patient Ratios) Bill 2015. As previous speakers have said, this is an important piece of legislation; indeed it is an Australian first and a world first. As other speakers have indicated, Labor promised to introduce this legislation, and Victoria has become the first state in Australia to have nurse-to-patient and midwife-to-patient ratios enshrined in legislation. As I have said in relation to many other bills which have been recently introduced in Parliament, this legislation was an election promise. Actions speak louder than words, and this is another election promise being delivered by the Andrews Labor government.

Like other speakers, I commend the work of the Premier and the Minister for Health for quickly bringing this legislation to the house, because it was a key commitment we said we would deliver on. At the outset I also want to mention the very fine contributions from members of Parliament, mostly from this side of the house, who have spoken so eloquently about Labor’s commitment to building a world-class health system, one that recognises in real terms, in legislative format, the essential role that nurses play in making sure our system is the best.

I also commend my fellow MPs for speaking of their personal experiences in hospitals. I am going to take a leaf out of that book, because only 10 days ago I was at Footscray Hospital, which is in one of our bigger hospitals, in the wee hours of the morning because my 100-year-old aunty had been admitted suffering pneumonia. I remember visiting Footscray Hospital as a child 50 years ago — it is fantastic the hospital is still there and thriving — and sitting on the side of my aunt’s bed as she strained to breathe. She was one of those people who, pre-Ventolin, suffered severe asthma attacks. I remember as a young child being frightened about what might happen. I also remember crawling onto her bed and trying to get close and the matron with her nurse’s cap and full robes chastising me for sitting on the bed — it is like yesterday. I remember the matron being very vocal with a barrage of words, and I promptly sat down and cried because I was unhappy I had done something wrong but also because my aunty was suffering so badly with her asthma. Thank God for the creators of Ventolin and thanks to the enormous support my aunty received over the years from doctors and nursing staff — she was readmitted to Footscray Hospital numerous times during the next 50 years — she was able to live an incredibly wonderful life.

Going back to Footscray Hospital in the wee hours of last Sunday morning, I was pleased to see that my aunt was in a hospital that has changed remarkably in the type of nursing care it provides. My husband and I and my brother and sister-in-law were catered for in such a meaningful and caring way that one could not have hoped to have had a relative in a better place. Even though my aunty was obviously suffering, she was given the best medical attention and the best nursing care. We were aware that probably this would be the time of her passing, and the nursing staff were intent on making sure that my dear, dear Aunty Peg, who was unaware of her surroundings, was very comfortable as she peacefully passed away.

The nursing staff held our hands, stroked our foreheads and provided what we call world-class attention to my aunt. But the care was also family focused and patient focused. My aunt did not know she was in a hospital, but she knew she was surrounded by the nicest people and by family members who loved her very dearly. To Footscray Hospital and all the people who work there, thank you so much for the care you gave my wonderful aunty over 100 years. She was born not far from the hospital, within a drop kick of the Western Oval. As I said, she attended the hospital many times, and over the years she experienced excellent health care.

If you read the excellent document on nurse-patient and midwife-patient ratios provided by the Australian Nursing & Midwifery Federation, it is not just about making sure that patients get the best care but that nurses are well looked after. Nursing is such an important profession in our healthcare system. On page 6, under the heading ‘Benefits for Victoria’s public hospital system’ it says:

Since the implementation of nurse/midwife: patient ratios in 2000, the health outcomes for the state’s patients have radically improved and thousands of registered nurses and midwives have returned to work in the public hospital system.

Like the member for Thomastown, I recall a time when nurses packed up their kit and went out to do jobs other than nursing. Patient-to-nurse ratios have been successful not only in bringing nurses back to the system but in providing nurses with excellent working conditions. We are making sure that their profession is recognised and supported in an industrial way. It is important to ensure that they want to stay on so that they can provide the level of care we want.

The document continues:

Some of the immediate outcomes for the public healthcare system were:

reduced waiting times in Victoria’s 87 public hospitals —

that is a benefit for every Victorian who may find themselves in an ambulance going to hospital or someone who has fallen over and needs some sort of emergency operation. It continues:

improved recruitment and retention of nurses —

as I have alluded to —

and midwives as a result of better, safer working environments

capability to meet demands on hospitals

improved economic performance of public hospitals.

That is good, because most people in our state end up getting their care in public hospitals. On this side of the house we know that strong public health and hospital systems are good for everybody, but they are also good for the private health system. If we can work together and provide a comprehensive suite of health alternatives to choose from, it is good for every patient and every family in Victoria.

This is landmark legislation. It is very important that it has come to the house, and I hope it will get universal support not only in this chamber but in the upper house as well. As other people have mentioned, one of the most important aspects of the legislation is that it will depoliticise the issue of nurse-to-patient ratios in the future. It will mean that patient care and nurses’ working conditions are not at the whim of any health minister who may follow the present minister; I hope my dear friend the Minister for Health does the job for a long time, because she does an excellent job. It means that nurses, like ambos and anybody working in the health system, cannot be used as a political football. We know when that happens not only do the professions suffer but patient care suffers. Despite the best efforts, people begin to question whether they are getting the best care when the health system is politicised. This is an excellent bill, and I wholeheartedly and sincerely commend it to the house.