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Safe staffing 'bombshell' does not deter NZNO.

THE MINISTER of Health Annette King's decision to pull the plug on NZNO's proposal for a safe staffing pilot project has not diminished NZNO's commitment to manageable workloads and strong clinical support for nurses on every shift, according to NZNO president lane O'Malley.

Last month the Minister, who originally suggested the safe staffing pilot project late last year, withdrew her support in favour of a magnet hospital pilot project at Hutt Valley District Health Board (DHB). The Minister's decision was a "bombshell", O'Malley said, but did not mean NZNO would now abandon its commitment to safe staffing. "The pilot project is off but the principles that drove it--manageable workloads and strong clinical support are still very much part of NZNO's agenda."

In late 2001, two NZNO staff members, professional nursing adviser Margaret Cain and organiser Anthony Rimmell, visited Melbourne and heard the details of the Victorian branch of the Australian Nursing Federation's (ANF) successful nurse/ patient ratios campaign. Regional conventions in 2002 supported NZNO adopting a safe stalling campaign and last year's NZNO conference heard the architect of the Victorian campaign, Belinda Morieson, outline the keys to its success and the results of the campaign. The Minister met Morieson at the conference and was very interested in the results of the campaign. Late last year the Minister announced the pilot project. NZNO committed time and resources to developing a proposal and O'Malley said at meetings this year, the Minister was always supportive, as was the Ministry of Health's chief nursing adviser Frances Hughes. At one meeting NZNO raised the fact there seemed to be some difficulty getting the pilot project on the Ministry's 2003/04 workplan with the Minister, who promised she would raise the matter with the Ministry. At the very next meeting with NZNO representatives, King told NZNO she was withdrawing her support because NZNO's proposal would cost $900,000 and its outcomes were unknown, whereas the magnet hospital pilot had clear outcomes, would take two years to achieve and would cost only $250,000.

NZNO refutes that the outcomes were unclear. "The outcomes of the Victorian nurse/patient ratios campaign were very clear: the ANF estimates 4000 nurses returned to the workforce; the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology had its largest intake of nursing students; nurses reported they felt safe at work and were able to spend time with patients; they could be involved in quality assurance issues and attend in-service education," O'Malley said.

She also disputed the fact the magnet hospital pilot would cost only $250,000. "Clearly it will cost more money to bring hospitals here up to magnet standards."

She said the Minister seemed to believe the safe staffing pilot project and the magnet hospital pilot project were in conflict with each other. "That is not the case. I have no idea where the idea of a conflict arose. It appears the Minister was hearing different messages from different people."

NZNO had worked "openly and honestly" with all nursing groups, including the national nursing organisations, the magnet advisory group, as well as the Ministry of Health and the Minister on the safe staffing proposal and believed its proposal and the magnet hospital pilot project were in accord rather than conflict.

"The priorities for our members are manageable workloads so they can practise safely, and good clinical support on every shift, delivered through associate charge nurses. These are the problems that have to be tackled first, before the characteristics that comprise magnet hospitals can be achieved. Achieving magnet hospital status has been described as a journey but there are some crucial first steps that have to be taken, ie safe workloads and clinical support," O'Malley said.

The magnet hospital pilot at Hutt Valley DHB was for two years and NZNO hopes to become more involved in it, she said, but in the meantime, staffing shortages were occurring all over the country and needed to be addressed now.

NZNO would continue to push for safe workloads and using nurses' industrial strength was one option. "We will look at having nurse/patient ratios included in future employment agreements. But nurses don't want a trade off between our campaign for fair pay and manageable work loads. Both are crucial to recruitment and retention."

O'Malley says NZNO's members on the magnet advisory group (herself and Margaret Cain) will continue to work to have the group understand that what NZNO wants is in the best interests of the profession as a whole. "We want the same things--safe workloads and safe clinical practice. Directors of nursing around the country should be telling their chief executives and boards that NZNO's campaign for better pay for nurses and our commitment to manageable workloads deserve support, because ultimately they will deliver better patient outcomes."
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Title Annotation:news and events
Publication:Kai Tiaki: Nursing New Zealand
Date:Sep 1, 2003
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