Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (14:32): I am pleased to rise to briefly speak about the Safe Patient Care (Nurse to Patient and Midwife to Patient Ratios) Amendment Bill 2020—or 2019 because, yes, it is one that has been sitting on our pink for quite some time. Certainly I was fortunate to be here in 2015 when we first started this notion of ratios, and while the idea began in 2000 it seems that certainly we have seen ratios being taken very seriously over the last four to five years. This new tranche will provide that extra support we need in those postnatal wards, birthing suites and residential aged care and will also reclassify the Warrnambool Base Hospital, which will provide extra support down there. I certainly recall, and I think Mr O’Donohue will recall, that when we were down that way during the end-of-life choices inquiry it was noted the real need for extra support to deal with not only the growing population but an ageing population down there and with some of the remoteness of those communities down there. So that is really pleasing.
Now, I remember when I last spoke about nurse-patient ratios, which must have been earlier this year, in COVID time. It seems like a long time ago, but I do not think that it was such a long time ago. It was a time when I wanted to use the heart emoji in Hansard, and I understood that Hansard was saying no to emojis. I have just checked; the Oxford dictionary is now accepting emojis, so I am wondering if Hansard can accept the heart emoji.
Mr Leane: Don’t mess with Hansard. Trust me!
Ms PATTEN: In fact the Oxford Dictionaries 2015 Word of the Year was the ‘face with tears of joy’ emoji, so I am hoping one day we may see heart emojis in Hansard, and that is for our nurses.
I certainly think that since I first mentioned that, our appreciation for nurses has skyrocketed. We used to sometimes call them the front line, but in fact conversely we now think of them as the last line of defence. If our masks are our first line of defence, if washing our hands is our first line of defence, then our nurses become our last. We have seen how critical nurses are in our society. It kinds of pains me in fact just to hear myself using those military terms for nurses, because I do not think that is appropriate and I do not think that using that sort of military language and strategy is what is going to work for us. We actually, in looking at COVID, need to take a health approach; we need to possibly stop trying to think of this as some sort of arms war or some sort of race in that way.
But as we know, as we have seen, these changes are really just going to give nurses the basic needs so that they have enough staff, so they can catch a quick break, so they can have time to re-energise between shifts and so we can look at reducing that nurse burnout. I know during this year I have spoken to the union and the union head, Lisa Fitzpatrick, and that has been her concern, the wellbeing of her nurses, because they put us before them almost all the time. They let themselves get incredibly run-down to ensure that we stay safe.
I think, in looking at that, I would also take this opportunity to call to, well, Mr O’Donohue for some federal assistance. Maybe he can speak to his federal colleagues around providing paid pandemic leave for our nurses and healthcare workers. I know it is a federal matter, so I would urge that we get our friends from the opposition to speak to their mates in federal government to support pandemic leave for nurses and other healthcare workers. I think that would be of great assistance, because COVID has shown us the fault lines in our healthcare system and the problems that have been raised here many times. Certainly Ms Maxwell raised a number of those concerns in her contribution, and I do concur. We have seen our nurses stretched too thin. We have seen their sick leave being inadequate. Nurses do not want to go to work sick, but in many cases they do because there are just not enough people to cover those shifts and their sick leave has run out.
So this bill has support from, it would appear, everyone in this chamber, which is a lovely change and probably a lovely way to finish this week. When we think about this, I wonder if we had listened to nurses sooner, if we had really taken this on sooner, whether we would have been in a better place. In my electorate, when the housing towers in Flemington and Kensington were closed down, many people contacted my office and said, ‘Why did we send in 500 police? Why didn’t we send in 500 nurses?’. Because that would have been the health response that was needed there. It would have been a much better response, I think, but we simply could not; we do not have that sort of surge capacity in our healthcare system, and we should.
So I am also very happy to see the government providing more midwives. I certainly have one of the busiest birthing hospitals in the state in my electorate, Northern Hospital in Epping, which is I think getting about 70 new babies every week. There are also 70 new houses being built out in Hume every week. This will really help them up there. The extra midwives will be incredible for the mums and nurses in the postnatal wards up there.
At the moment we have got one midwife to four mums and four babies, and if there are no twins on an evening shift a midwife will be responsible for six to eight mums currently. So this legislation will actually really lighten the load for all midwives, but particularly I would like to do a shout-out to the midwifes at the Northern Hospital.
We see that those midwives, given those numbers, are just constantly on the run to give every mum and baby the medical attention they require, and sometimes, as I have been hearing, it is just not possible. They are just trying to do their best, and this puts strain and stress on nurses who are feeling that they want to do everything they possibly can but it just physically is not possible. In fact one nurse was telling me that in one case she rushed to assist in an emergency in another room and left her patients for 3 or 4 minutes, and in that time one of the babies she was responsible for had its heart rate drop really dangerously. So then she had to hit the emergency button in the next room, and she was running from emergency to emergency and there was chaos. The strain and stress that that put on that woman is something that we really need to avoid and we can avoid, and this bill will assist us in doing this.
More nurses and midwives will benefit our society. It will not just benefit us, but it will hopefully benefit the nurses so that they can work better and so that they can work without the stress and strains that they are experiencing today. I am very happy to support this legislation. I know it will improve safety, and I continue to emoji heart our nurses.