QUESTION: Nursing Ratios at Warrnambool Hospital

Mr PURCELL (Western Victoria) (12:35:40) — My question is to Minister Mikakos representing the Minister for Health. Nurse-to-patient ratios were set up 18 years ago, in the year 2000, with some changes in the safe patient care bill in 2015. However, last week I had a delegation of nurses in my office asking why the country ratios are still much less favourable than those in the city. Therefore my question is: Minister, why are nurse-to-patient ratios still less favourable in country hospitals than those in city hospitals?

Ms MIKAKOS (Minister for Families and Children) (12:36:15) — I thank Mr Purcell for his question. I know he has a very deep interest in supporting his community, particularly those in Warrnambool who have an interest in what is happening in relation to the Warrnambool Base Hospital, and in seeking to ensure that they have access to good health services, and that is absolutely what our government is committed to doing.

I was very proud to be a member of this government when we enshrined nurse-to-patient ratios into legislation in 2015. We had very significant legislation that was brought into this house. Effectively what the safe patient care legislation that we put into law enshrined was that the ratios that existed at that time under the enterprise bargaining agreement were replicated in law. It was essentially designed to ensure that there was no significant additional burden put onto our regional hospitals in particular in a short period of time.

The issue of the category that each hospital sits under is obviously part of a more complex and larger issue that relates to services and population size and a range of other considerations. Our government has committed to improving ratios over time. In fact we established a task force to provide some advice to the government about these matters, and we will continue to work on those possible improvements over time.

The matters that Mr Purcell has raised of course will be considered as part of that future work. I thank him for his interest, but I particularly want to congratulate the Minister for Health, Jill Hennessy, for enshrining this really important ratio into law, because while of course the community has nothing to fear under a Labor government, which always puts record investment into health services, as our government has, what we have seen when the coalition has been in office is the six Cs put into practice, and they are: cuts, cuts, cuts, cuts, cuts and cuts. In fact Mr Davis was the responsible minister who would not give nurses a pay increase. He took a pay dispute to the last election. We had members of the Liberal Party giving nurses the bird. We had all sorts of disrespect for our important nurse workforce. I was very pleased that we effectively Tory-proofed nurse-to-patient ratios in this state in that legislation to ensure that future Liberal health ministers cannot engage in the wrecking exercise that we saw under Mr David Davis.

I thank the member for bringing this question to the house and for his continued interest in advocating for the people of Warrnambool and the people of his electorate. We will continue to work with Mr Purcell to make sure that his constituents get access to good quality health services. That is what people in Mr Purcell's electorate can expect under an Andrews Labor government.

Mr PURCELL (Western Victoria) (12:40:11) — I thank the minister for the response. The nurses certainly support the nurse-to-patient ratio and also the amendments that were made to legislate that. But one of the nurses I met with said to me, 'A patient with a fractured hip is the same regardless of region. The thought was that after the 2000 agreement we, the country hospitals, would pick up along the way, but we haven't'. My supplementary question is: does the government ever intend to make the nurse-to-patient ratio the same per treatment regardless of being a country or city hospital?

Ms MIKAKOS (Minister for Families and Children) (12:40:51) — I thank Mr Purcell for his supplementary question on this matter. What I can say to him is that we absolutely respect the work that our dedicated nurses do in this state. Many of us I am sure have been patients ourselves, or have had family members or loved ones who have been patients, and to see the level of care that nurses give —

An honourable member — The professionalism.

Ms MIKAKOS — The professionalism is extraordinary, and I take this opportunity to express my gratitude to them.

In relation to the specifics of the matter that the member has raised, I will seek a written response for the member and provide further advice to him, but what I can say to him is, as I expressed in response to his substantive question, we are always engaged in continuously looking at how we can make improvements. That is backed up by the record investment we have already put in place as a government. That stands in contrast to what we have seen from those opposite.