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Tuesday, 3 December 1985
Page: 2856


Senator REID(10.57) —Last week I asked a question of Senator Grimes, the Minister representing the Minister for Health, about the nurses strike in Canberra. The Minister commented on the preamble to my question but he did not really deal with the substance of it-that is, what will happen to my constituents? I need to raise this matter again because the nurses strike has escalated since then. Only last Friday evening, I am led to believe, there was a strike at Canberra airport at 5 o'clock, in support of the nurses. That may have inconvenienced some people; it is a time which is quite busy at Canberra airport. In that sense, of course, only those who were able and fit were inconvenienced. The ones I am really concerned about are those who are sick. In this morning's newspaper we learned that the crisis had intensified as a result of the decision last night of the Royal Australian Nursing Federation to halve the staff that had been working in critical care areas.

What I really want to ask the Government is whether it is aware of the worsening crisis in Canberra due to the nurses strike. What contingency plans are there to provide this community with a health service? As an aside, I mention that we are all continuing to pay our Medicare levies but we really are not getting the universal coverage we have been promised. It is particularly the plight of those in nursing homes to which I wish to refer. I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a Press release issued on 29 November 1985 by Dr Peter Sinnett, the Director of the Rehabilitation and Geriatric Service in the Australian Capital Territory.

Leave granted.

The document read as follows-

PRESS RELEASE

29 November 1985

Among the responsibilities of the Rehabilitation and Geriatric Service, is the care of 250 residents in Allambee and Jindalee Nursing Homes. These elderly people are among the most frail, the most disabled, and indeed the most defenceless members of the Canberra community. For them there is no alternative to Nursing Home accommodation.

Whatever the issues in the present dispute, it is the care of people, especially the frail elderly, that must remain the primary concern of the community.

A measure of a society's values is the care that it provides for its aged and handicapped people. Certainly, this group should not be exploited in a conflict between management and unions.

Ideally, the parties should have excluded the Nursing Homes from the present industrial dispute, the more so as at the time of the present strike there was no dispute existing between the Royal Australian Nursing Federation and the Rehabilitation and Geriatric Service in relation to staffing or any other issue. It was particularly disappointing therefore, to learn on Thursday 28 November 1985, that the Royal Australian Nursing Federation had withdrawn the Grade II Supervisory Staff from the homes. This action seriously reduced the nursing cover available at Allambee and Jindalee Nursing Homes, and therefore increased the risk to the residents. In addition, it placed an excessive burden on nursing staff who have continued to man the homes, as well as on the relatives of the residents who have been given support by the Council on the Ageing and the Salvation Army to provide care during this difficult period.

We pay tribute to the level of care that has been maintained through the dedication and commitment of staff, relatives and volunteers.

In order to provide an adequate level of care for the vulnerable elderly residents of our two nursing homes, we ask that nursing homes be excluded from the present dispute, or at least that the Grade II Supervisory and Charge Sisters be allowed to return to duty.

PETER SINNETT

Director

Rehabilitation and Geriatric Service

A.C.T. Health Authority


Senator REID —Dr Sinnett refers to the 250 residents in the two nursing homes as `the most frail, the most disabled'. He asks that they be excluded from the strike and that normal nursing services continue. The other statement which I seek leave to have incorporated in Hansard is a copy of a letter written by the Chairman of the Australian Capital Territory Council on the Ageing, Mrs Kath Bourke, to the Secretary of the Royal Australian Nursing Federation again seeking that nursing homes be excluded and that normal services return.

Leave granted.

The document read as follows-

3 December 1985

PRESS RELEASE

The following letter was delivered to the RANF today.

The Secretary

Royal Australian Nursing Federation (A.C.T.)

3 Lonsdale Street

Braddon, A.C.T. 2601

Dear Ms Power

I am writing on behalf of the A.C.T. Council on the Ageing to request that the Jindalee and Allambee Nursing Homes be excluded from the current industrial dispute between the RANF and the A.C.T. Health Authority.

Council has been reluctant to comment while the matter is before the Arbitration Commission, but our growing concern for the residents who are the real victims of the dispute compels us to appeal on their behalf.

It is regrettable that frail, elderly people who have no means of making their voices heard, many of whom cannot even feed themselves, are being denied the basic human right to appropriate care and attention.

This Council has over many years been the one community group which has actively pursued with the Minister for Health and the Capital Territory Health Commission (now the A.C.T. Health Authority), the issues of adequate accommodation and resources to provide appropriate care of the elderly.

We therefore appeal to your Federation on behalf of the 250 frail and dependent residents to exclude the two Nursing Homes from the current industrial action.

Yours sincerely

Mrs K. A. BOURKE

Chairman


Senator REID —In her letter Mrs Bourke makes it plain that she does not want to get involved in any dispute, but she does make a plea for the frail elderly people who are in the nursing homes. I join in that plea. I felt myself that the nurses could have gone back to work last Wednesday after the Arbitration Commission hearing. Certainly at that time they had not won the things that they were seeking, but they had massive public support and support from doctors. They could have said: `We have not actually got extra staff yet, but there is to be a work evaluation of nursing services. We will go back and provide the service and we will rely on the public to see that the evaluation goes ahead and is honoured'. The nurses would not have won what they had been on strike for, but at least the services would have been resumed. Even now I ask that the nursing homes be attended in the normal way. I repeat my question to the Government: What contingency plans does it have, and is it making any attempt to negotiate with the Royal Australian Nursing Federation to resume normal nursing in the nursing homes?

We have had services in the nursing homes and the hospitals. In the nursing homes in particular the Salvation Army and members of the Council on the Ageing have been working and families have been giving support where they are able to do so. However, those who have been working there since the strike began are becoming rather jaded and they may not be able to keep it up for much longer. They are, of course, volunteers. In addition, there have been nurses working who are members of the Hospital Employees Federation but some of the nurses who have been provided by the RANF in the critical care areas have been cut back.

In addition and prior to this there were problems in the community health area. I needed to refer to that as well. The reason for that is that the community nurses made their points known in a letter that they sent to the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke), the Minister for Health (Dr Blewett), the four local Federal members of the Parliament and the House of Assembly. I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard the letter written about the community health services.

Leave granted.

The letter read as follows-

Dear Sir,

As a Community Health Nurse in the A.C.T. I wish to inform you of the staffing situation currently causing great stress to me and my colleagues.

For example:

(i) No holiday relief has been available to our work area this year, with the result that each team member has had to carry an extra load of work to cover community needs.

(ii) There has been no sick relief within our area since March, adding further stress as a second workload is distributed amongst team members.

(iii) Children who have been screened and found with defects have not yet been channelled via the Child Health Medical Officer for appropriate action because of lack of staff, and many more children referred by teachers are still waiting to be seen. This situation has been particularly compounded as a result of the first two points.

Staff have for some time been manifesting physical as well as emotional signs of stress, and sick leave has in fact been accelerated.

Members of our teams are seriously contemplating resignation. There has been a high turn-over in Community Nursing staff because of these above-mentioned work stresses and the comparatively low pay for highly skilled and demanding work, when better salaries are available elsewhere. I, for one, have considered a change in occupation for this very reason.

I request your understanding and practical help in representing our cause to the Australian Capital Territory Health Authority, and the Minister for Health, Dr Blewett, in a manner that will evoke a positive outcome in as short a time as possible. None of us wished to see a continuation of the hardship which has been imposed upon many of our clients in recent months, if not years.

Your faithfully,

(Miss) Jill Clingan.

Copies to:

The Prime Minister, Mr Hawke

The Minister for Health, Dr Blewett

Senator Susan Ryan

Senator Margaret Reid

Ros Kelly, M. P.

Mr Jim Leedman, House of Assembly.


Senator REID —The letter refers to there being no holiday relief and no sick leave relief available. It also refers to the stress that the nurses are working under and the high turnover in staff. Since the hospitals have virtually closed down, this situation has been heightened by the number of patients who are at home and are calling on the community health services they would not otherwise have done had they been in hospital. I and other local members are beginning to get phone calls from patients who would have been expecting surgery. I just mention one case. A man who has been expecting to undergo upper spinal surgery since last June has now been told that he is not likely to get it before next April. He is obliged to go to clinics regularly in order to receive pain killing injections and other treatment. Other patients are also becoming distressed. The nurses have a case. There is no doubt about that and this community believes in what they have to say. That is quite apparent. But there are consequences resulting from what has occurred. Again I ask the Government to attend to the questions that I have posed as to what will happen and what plans it has in mind.