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Govt aims for first term legislation on nurse-patient ratios

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The Malinauskas Government says it will push to legislate nurse-to-patient ratios across state hospitals during its first term in government, as the Premier outlined recruitment targets to fulfill his party’s election pledges on health.

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After running a state election campaign predominately focused on the “crisis” within South Australia’s health system, Premier Peter Malinauskas today announced a new local, interstate and overseas advertising campaign to attract doctors, nurses and paramedics to SA hospitals.

“Today we get to work rolling out our plan for a dramatic increase in health resources in our public hospital system throughout the state,” Malinauskas told reporters today.

“Chief amongst those priorities is recruiting more people.

“We don’t just want to recruit to tread water, we want to recruit to increase the capacity of the system.”

Malinauskas noted there is “already substantial recruitment underway” given SA Health maintains a workforce of more than 30,000 people “just to meet attrition”, but said the new government is “seeking to bolster that recruitment effort to ensure we reach our targets of substantial recruitment over and above attrition”.

Health Minister Chris Picton also today signalled that the State Government was now “working towards legislating nurse-patient ratios”.

“[It] means there’ll be the right number of nurses to care for the right number of patients, which is incredibly important,” Picton said.

Malinauskas, asked when the patient-staff ratio system would be legislated, said: “We’ve said we’d do it in our first term.”

“We haven’t put a specific timeline on it, there will be a negotiation that need to take place to make sure we get that legislation right,” he said.

“It’s not just a simple piece of legislation with a simple number, there is a complexity to it.

“If we can get the exercise underway to get it passed through the parliament expeditiously, we will do that.”

Malinauskas pointed to Queensland and Victoria as successful examples of legislated patient to staff ratios.

The Queensland Government currently has a minimum nurse to patient ratio of 1:4 for morning and afternoon shifts and 1:7 for night shifts. Victoria’s is 1:4 for mornings and afternoons and 1:8 at night.

Malinauskas said the South Australian ratio would vary in different parts of hospitals and depend on patient acuity.

Asked whether the new legislation was designed to ensure compliance from local health networks, Malinauskas said: “The whole idea here is to prevent a situation where within the health bureaucracy … there’s a lack of compliance.”

“By having legislation in place, it ensures compliance, it denies the ability for management or Treasury or a corporate liquidator to come in and start playing around with those numbers,” he said.

“Now in terms of what happens when there’s a breach, we’ll be looking at other pieces of legislation around the country.”

The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation launched action in the South Australian Employment Tribunal last September over alleged breaches of their enterprise agreement, which related to a 1:3 nurse-to-patient ratio in the Women’s and Children’s Hospital.

Malinauskas also today confirmed new “KPIs” for Labor’s pledge to recruit 300 more nurses, 100 more doctors and 350 more ambos.

The Premier said by June 30 next year, the State Government hopes to have 24 more doctors, 100 nurses and 99 ambos online “over and above attrition”.

Meanwhile, there’s been a “small decrease” in the number of people hospitalised with COVID-19 today, according to the health minister, after hospitalisations spiked to 181 people on Monday from 158 the day before.

“But these figures will obviously bounce around on a day-to-day basis and we are seeing the trend line over the past seven days going up,” Picton said.

He also flagged that the State Government was “hoping to have some announcements in the next couple of days” regarded expanded hospital capacity, as SA Health searches for an additional 200 beds to prepare for next month’s predicted COVID surge.

SA recorded 4140 cases of COVID-19 on Monday and three deaths.

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