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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2001 Week 4 Hansard (27 March) . . Page.. 961 ..

MR STANHOPE (Leader of the Opposition) (4.15): What we have just heard, of course, is a long explanation of failure. I guess we can understand the minister's sensitivity to that. The ACT minister for health has had to come in here today, after his much lauded reform package hit the wall, and explain to us, in the detail he has attempted to provide, why he has failed in his endeavours to introduce his particular reform package, as he titled it, "Strengthening the ACT nursing work force".

I think it is moot, Mr Deputy Speaker, to refer again to the ministerial statement that the minister made on 7 December in introducing his strengthening the ACT nursing work force package. There was nothing in the introduction to the minister's statement on that occasion with which one would disagree.

The minister referred to the national and the international shortage of nurses as affecting the ability of health systems to respond to the needs of the Canberra population, and more generally the Australian population. The minister referred to the worsening situation which is recognised by all states and territories. I think we need to ponder the irony of that. The minister, last December, acknowledged that the situation was worsening and that through his package of initiatives he was going to reverse that trend and make it better. As we look at the situation today, it is ironic and interesting to reflect on the minister's laudable stated intention of trying to reverse that particular situation and what he has actually achieved, and the way in which he has pursued this particular initiative.

On that occasion the minister acknowledged the world-wide advertising campaign that is currently afoot to attract nurses from Australia to other jurisdictions. I think we should all be acutely aware of the very vigorous advertising campaign and recruitment process which the English have launched seeking nurses from around the world, and in particular from Australia. I understand that they have set a target of recruiting something like 16,000 nurses in the short term. That is just England alone. Of course, Australian nurses will be looking with interest at that.

We all are aware of the demands that are placed on the ACT public hospital system. We all acknowledge, as did the minister, rightfully, that nurses are the backbone of the public hospital system. We are all aware that the shortage of nurses is used in here from time to time as an excuse by the minister and by health officials in relation to the elective surgery waiting list. It is one of the reasons why there are those problems.

This situation was referred to again in question time today. Mr Osborne asked a question in relation to a particular issue that was raised with him last night, a situation reflected by the stress and strain that the public hospital system faces. We know that part of that strain is the result of a shortage of qualified nurses in a range of specialty areas, namely intensive care, mainly in the delivery of mental health services, and in relation to oncology and paediatrics. There is a serious shortage of qualified nurses in those specialties, as well as other special areas within ACT Community Care, such as gerontology, oncology and palliative care, paediatrics, and in alcohol and drug services. We do have a public health system severely strained as a result of the difficulty in attracting and maintaining nurses to the system.

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