Warrnambool Hospital reclassification

Mr PURCELL (Western Victoria) (12:40:57) — My question is to Minister Mikakos representing the Minister for Health. Nurses at the Warrnambool Base Hospital, referred to as South West Healthcare, are under enormous pressure as their patient ratios have not kept pace with the increase in demand for their services. The demands on our hospital services are growing, with the 12th consecutive year of record patient throughput greater than 20 per cent, over 26 000 emergency department presentations per annum and more recently the federal government announcing South West Healthcare Warrnambool as the western Victorian hub of medical student training. Still the hospital is at a level 3 classification, meaning that it has lower nurse-to-patient ratios than level 2 metropolitan hospitals providing the same community support.

So I ask the minister: will you reclassify South West Healthcare to a level 2 to improve nurse-to-patient ratios?

Minister's response

Ms MIKAKOS (Minister for Families and Children) (12:41:57) — Can I begin by firstly thanking Mr Purcell for his question. I think he has shown on a number of occasions now that he is a very passionate advocate for the strength of ratios in protecting patient safety, particularly for his local hospital, Warrnambool Base Hospital. In his question he has particularly highlighted his strong support for nurse and midwife-to-patient ratios. That stands in stark contrast actually to the local Assembly member there, Roma Britnell, who has been incredibly silent on these matters.

Honourable members interjecting.

Ms MIKAKOS — The reason is —

Honourable members interjecting.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT — Order!

Ms MIKAKOS — We have a very proud track record on these issues. In 2015 in fact the Andrews Labor government became the first state in Australia to legislate to protect nurse-to-patient and midwife-to patient ratios in law. We did this because we know that patient safety matters and should be protected in our laws. We had a situation when David Davis was in fact the minister where they tried to trade off nurse-to-patient ratios in industrial negotiations. We had a situation where they were trying to trade away and use ratios as a bargaining chip in industrial negotiations — a disgraceful situation where we had nurses needing to strike —

Honourable members interjecting.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT — Order!

Ms MIKAKOS — to protect their wages and conditions, including the ratios.

Ms Crozier interjected.

Ms MIKAKOS — Ms Crozier, you of all people should understand that nurses took collective action to collectively bargain to protect their conditions — something that you never did —

Honourable members interjecting.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT — Order!

Ms Lovell — On a point of order, Deputy President, Ms Mikakos is pointing aggressively at Ms Crozier, and I ask you to ask her to desist from that behaviour.

Honourable members interjecting.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT — Order!

Ms Shing — On the point of order, Deputy President, Ms Lovell does not have the benefit of the line of sight that we do over here, and I can assure you that there has been provocation from the other side of the chamber, and on that basis if Ms Crozier wants to sit quietly, we can continue.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT — Minister, I ask you to come back to the question, and you do not have to reflect much on the opposition.

Ms MIKAKOS — Thank you, Deputy President. I am getting interjections from the other side. The point I was making is that nurses had to take strike action, take collective bargaining action in order to protect their wages and conditions. While we had a relative of a former Liberal Premier give nurses the bird, literally give nurses the bird during that industrial action, what we did was we actually took steps to Toryproof nurse-to-patient ratios in this state, to make sure that David Davis or Mary Wooldridge or any other Liberal in the future could not do the same thing again. We have legislated to codify these ratios which are set out in an enterprise agreement in line with our election commitment.

But the work of protecting and indeed enhancing patient safety continues. Over the last three years the Minister for Health has had an extensive process of consultation to identify priority areas for improvement. In fact the Premier and Minister Hennessy, who is a fantastic Minister for Health, have already announced that the government has a commitment to introduce a bill to strengthen the Safe Patient Care (Nurse to Patient and Midwife to Patient Ratios) Act 2015. This includes changes to the rounding rule; improvement of ratios in palliative care, birthing suites and special care nurseries and relating to peak periods in emergency department cubicles; and new ratios in acute stroke units, haematology wards and acute inpatient oncology. These changes will see the employment of an additional 600 nurses and midwives across the state, supported by the work that Minister Tierney is doing in providing free TAFE for the diploma in nursing, making sure that more young people in our state can take up those opportunities in nursing.

This will mean additional nurses and midwives for South West Healthcare in Warrnambool in areas such as aged care, birthing suites, the special care nursery and subacute settings. I understand that the issue of the classification of the Warrnambool hospital has been raised in consultations. As I have indicated already, legislation is going to come to the Parliament shortly. I will not pre-empt that legislation, but I do want to assure the member that the ratio issue is one that is very dear to our government's heart.