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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2001 Week 10 Hansard (29 August) . . Page.. 3582 ..

MR OSBORNE (continuing):

nurses felt that inadequate nurse-to-patient ratios caused by staff shortages and an inappropriate skill mix were responsible for clinical workload problems and were their greatest source of stress. Inevitably, as pressure increases to create efficiencies within hospitals, there will be times when inadequate staffing levels place patients at risk. I trust I am not alone when I say it is an unacceptable position for everyone-the nurses, the patients, the community-and it should be for us, as well.

This exposure bill provides a solution. I accept that it is not a pretty solution, but it provides for increased patient safety while protecting the working conditions of nurses and improving their career structure. Opponents of legislated nurse-to-patient ratio usually call this approach simplistic; however, I am encouraged if that is their best shot in the locker. Some may prefer a much more complicated solution or even no solution, but I believe that, after 12 years of ongoing disputes, the time has come to consider a way of breaking the deadlock over some aspects of this issue. I accept that our health system and public hospitals need to operate as efficiently as is practical. However, I despair when I see their management act as though they were a business.

I have said this before, and I repeat the message today: government is not a business; it is about providing services. Some of those services, such as hospitals, are essential and naturally require amounts of public money to ensure the provision of good health care. I consider that the measures in this bill achieve a number of goals. One unexpected achievement, based on experience in California, would be long-term cost savings due to better patient outcomes. As people receive better health care from appropriately trained staff, they will ultimately cost less to heal.

On a final note, the last thing either nurses, hospital management or the community wants is a continual public brawl over hospital staffing. This exposure bill addresses that issue and provides a solution for both sides. The solution is set within a framework that is flexible, achievable, workable and non-confrontational. Provisions in the bill also address the issue of double shifts and overwork, which add to the impression that nursing is an unattractive profession.

If re-elected and, depending on the outcome of the nurses' EBA negotiations over the next few months, I may yet table a formal bill for Assembly consideration. Mr Speaker, I hope that day will not come.

I seek leave to move a motion.

Leave granted.


That the Assembly takes note of the papers.

MR MOORE (Minister for Health, Housing and Community Services) (11.02): Mr Osborne suggested that the best shot people have is to say that this is simplistic. If that is all we are saying, he is quite right in dismissing it. Part of what he seeks to do in his exposure draft is ensure the adequate protection of patients in acute care settings, and that needs to be respected. But what he does not do is recognise that this will create many more problems for patient care than it solves, and I will explain why.

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