Dark days for Queensland public hospitals as Government cuts services

Tuesday 11th September, 2012

The State Government is making deep cuts to frontline health services, including nursing and midwifery. This is creating great uncertainty and distress amongst Queensland Health (QH) employees.

At least 2754 jobs, including more than 1500 in the 17 frontline hospital districts, are to go, which will impact on the quantity and quality of services. Local communities got a glimpse of possible things to come when the Townsville Hospital and Health Service announced the slashing of 131 staff, including 45 nurses and midwives.

So thousands of employees, including hundreds of nurses and midwives, will be thrown on the scrap heap at a time of growing demand for health services and an ageing population.

It has been suggested nurses and midwives have a choice at this time: they can stand in front of the bulldozer or they can climb aboard the bulldozer and help to steer it. The point is the Queensland Nurses Union (QNU) does not accept a bulldozer is required.

No business case was made for these health job cuts other than questionable claims the State is broke. The QNU has never accepted this. In fact, we believe the cuts are a dangerous over-reaction by the State Government to Queensland's post-GFC and post-natural disasters financial position.

As well as attacking the safe delivery of health services, the LNP government has also significantly reduced the rights at work of Queensland Health and other State public sector employees.

Shortly after the March State election the QNU finalised its latest public sector workplace agreement - EB8 - with the incoming government. This contained firm job security assurances and workplace-change consultation arrangements. However, in a breach of good faith, the LNP passed legislation to nullify those clauses.

EB8 also contains an important commitment to safe nursing and midwifery workloads. The recent job cuts were announced without any reference to this part of the agreement and are another violation of nurses and midwives' rights at work.

Integral to safe workloads management is the nursing and midwifery career and classification structure, which is also threatened by these unilateral government decisions. Experienced, senior clinicians, such as clinical nurse consultants, nurse educators and nurse unit managers, are essential to safe patient care. They provide the vital checks and balances necessary to reducing mistakes and patient harm.

Modern nursing and midwifery is complex. Senior clinicians and managers are essential to overseeing and protecting the core nursing values of caring, professionalism, holism and advocacy, which keep the health system safe for patients.

We should never forget Queensland governments had under-invested in public health services for decades.

After decades of being something of a backwater, Queensland is now a nursing and midwifery leader. That is good news for Queenslanders and we will fight to keep it that way. Nurses and midwives work to keep our health system both safe and human. We take seriously the role of being strong advocates for high-quality universal health services, based on clinical need and not ability to pay.

All of these nursing and midwifery cuts are also hard to understand given that, by 2015, the planned expansion of QH services means Queensland will require another 6000 nurses and midwives.

Finally, there are ways we can improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our health system. In fact, nurses and midwives agreed to focus on this very thing during the life of EB8. However, just how focused will anyone be on this when they are not consulted about change and fear for their job. The optimum functioning of our health system is reliant on cooperation, good relationships and trust. All are in short supply in QH at present.