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Wednesday, 20 May 1970


Mr Allan Fraser (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Monaro) - The grave and deteriorating state of the nursing profession in Australia, to which the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden) has directed attention, is obviously a matter of great public importance. I strongly support his action in bringing it before the House, because the more this matter is debated and the better it is understood the greater prospect there is that the dissatisfactions which exist can be alleviated and removed. My particular concern is with the Canberra Hospital, of which 1 have been a board member for 23 years and chairman for a good part of that time - and am chairman now. The Canberra Hospital serves not only the people of Canberra but is a specialist base hospital for a considerable surrounding area of New South Wales.

Because I am concerned that girls in this area might be deterred from applying to become student nurses in our hospital, I want immediately to correct 1 statement at least which might have misled them very much. A girl joining, at age 17, the clerical service of the Commonwealth Public Service would have to be employed for 8 years as a clerk to reach the salary that a girl commencing nursing training in Canberra Hospital at age 17 would reach in 5 years.

I believe - and all of us who have been in hospital know - that nurses render most devoted and dedicated service to their patients. They deserve our thanks and admiration. But so, I believe, do clerks in the Public Service and so, I believe, do those who clean Commonwealth public offices. I mention those 2 categories because I think that it is sad indeed that some of the misguided advocates of the claims of nurses have chosen to make derogatory comparisons between the nursing profession and these other very useful and important occupations.

My second point is that, having heard this afternoon the woeful conditions that exist in public hospitals in the States, 1 must say that the Commonwealth, in relation to Canberra Hospital, is at least comparatively a very good employer, which may be only partly duc to the fact that I am Chairman of the Management Board of that Hospital. I direct attention to the fact that the nurses' case which has been just dealt with and the decision which has aroused such protests and such rejection from the nursing staff of Canberra Hospital was decided by the Full Bench of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission at the request of the nurses themselves. Ready agreement was given to this request by the Canberra Hospital Management Board. However much dissatisfaction there may be with the result of the adjudication, it was an adjudication chosen by the nurses. I know of no other way now in which their case can be re-examined or their wishes met except by the matter again coming before that Commission.

I particularly direct attention to some of the conditions which exist in Canberra Hospital and which, I hope, may serve as some sort of model for public hospitals in the States. The Minister for Health (Dr Forbes) may be encouraged to assist the States to reach these standards which have been reached in nurses' conditions in Canberra Hospital. In the first place, I deal with annual leave. Those required to work on Sundays at Canberra Hospital receive 6 weeks annual leave. All other nurses receive 5 weeks annual leave. Nurses working in Canberra Hospital receive time and a half for all work on Saturday and double time for work on Sunday. This provision is additional to what has been provided in the States because, for example, in Victoria no provision is made for penalty rates for weekend work at all and in New South Wales the provision in this respect is on a much lesser scale. Surely what can be done in Canberra can be done throughout Australia.

In addition, nurses at Canberra Hospital receive a loading of 10% for evening duty and 25% for night duty, the latter being employment between 6 p.m. and 8 a.m. Full board is provided in the nurses' home at Canberra Hospital for first and second year student nurses for $2.58 a week, for third year nurses for $3.87 a week and for other members of the nursing staff for $7.11 a week. These conditions also may well be taken as a model to which the public hospitals in the States could subscribe. Nearly all student nurses in Canberra live in. Many of the more senior staff live out.

There are several other matters in which Canberra Hospital is in advance of some other public hospitals in the conditions provided for nursing staff. I am not saying for a moment that the path to further improvements in conditions and salaries of nursing staff at Canberra Hospital is closed or ended. I wish to see further improvements made. But, as an example of what I mean, I point out that in Canberra Hospital nurses are relieved completely of the task of serving meals to patients. I have seen on recent public affairs programmes that this obligation still rests with nurses in the various States.

The honourable member for Kingston (Dr Gun) referred to the need for nursing aides. We employ 137 nursing aides in Canberra Hospital. The introduction of diet maids for the provision of meals was begun 14 years ago and has been extended progressively ever since, so that this obligation no longer rests on the nursing staff. Also. Canberra Hospital provides for student nurses the equivalent of 1 day of working time each week for study purposes. In our hospital nurses are not required to do their study after they have completed their working day.


Mr Reynolds - That is an important provision.


Mr Allan Fraser (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Yes. We give them the equivalent of I working day a week purely for study purposes. When their examinations approach we give our nurses further periods completely off duty to enable them to prepare themselves for their examinations. 1 know of no other award anywhere in Australia that contains such a provision, [t is a very important and wise provision. I hope that this debate will lead to this and other improvements that exist already in Canberra being extended throughout the rest of Australia. The total nursing staff of Canberra Hospital, including nursing aides, is about 700. I think that today it is 697. The daily average of occupied beds is 560 at present. These figures show a high ratio of nurses to patients compared with the position elsewhere.

Finally, in the brief time that I have left to me, 1 wish to mention just one matter - broken shifts. These are the bane of nurses in very many hospitals. Broken shifts do not exist in Canberra in the sense that every nurse in Canberra Hospital, with the sole exception until last week of the intensive care ward, works a a straight shift of 8 hours. The only exception, as I have said, until last week, was the intensive care ward. I imagine that many nurses throughout Australia may envy this provision. The only other thing that I should say - and I say it in complete fairness - is that none of these improvements which have been made in Canberra Hospital through my own work as Chair man of the Management Board and through the work of my colleagues on the Canberra Hospital Management Board could have been put into effect without the approval of the Minister for Health, who is at the table, and f thank him for what he has done.







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