Nursing work bans bite today
April 21, 2004
A QUARTER of Victoria's public hospital beds will close from 7am (AEST) today as nurses step up industrial campaign.
But Victoria's state government will tomorrow try to force the Australian Nursing Federation members to abandon the action when it applies to the Australian Industrial Relations Commission to end the dispute bargaining period, making the work bans unlawful.
At a meeting in Melbourne yesterday, nurses voted unanimously to close a quarter of the state's public hospital beds.
They endorsed the action after the government refused to budge on its push to abolish nurse-patient ratios. There are currently five nurses for every 20 patients in the state's public hospitals.
The government wants to replace the ratio with a computerised staffing system based on the illness of patients.
It says the system would be more flexible, and improve patient care.
Australian Nursing Federation (ANF) state secretary Lisa Fitzpatrick said nurse-patient ratios had brought back 4000 nurses to the state system, and they would leave in droves if the ratios were abolished.
"This is a demonstration of what the public health system will be like if the Bracks government ... continues to attempt to abolish mandated nurse-patient ratios," Ms Fitzpatrick told reporters.
She said the bans would remain until May 4, when nurses would consider escalating the action if the government continued its position.
In their 2001 industrial dispute, nurses closed one in three hospital beds in their fight to retain nurse-patient ratios.
The state government said the bans risked public safety.
"It will be devastating for our hospital system," Health Minister Bronwyn Pike said yesterday.
"Elective surgery will have to be cancelled. Operations will have to be cancelled."
However, Ms Fitzpatrick said patients would not be put at risk because exemptions would apply in emergency cases and for the seriously ill.
Under the bans, one in four beds will be closed in each hospital ward, including aged care, radiology and cardiac units.
Another three beds would be closed in each ward and reserved for emergency admissions.
A quarter of all booked elective surgery sessions will be cancelled, and one in four outpatient appointments will be refused.
Blood collection will also be disrupted, with bans on mobile collection units, while Royal District Nursing Service staff will restrict home visits in some cases. Bans on data processing and paperwork will apply across the health system.
Nurses are also seeking an eight per cent annual pay rise, while the government has offered its standard pay offer of three per cent a year.
Meanwhile, psychiatric nurses will meet tomorrow to consider escalating industrial action in their campaign for better pay and conditions.
Health and Community Services Union state secretary Lloyd Williams threatened rolling stoppages, saying mental health services would be plunged into chaos unless the government took psychiatric nurses seriously.
The union is seeking improved training and workloads for the state's 5000 mental health nurses, as well as an eight per cent annual pay rise.