Thousands of NSW public hospital nurses have walked off the job in protest, saying they are stretched too thin to give patients the care they deserve, especially in a pandemic.
Staff at around 150 public hospitals are participating in staggered strikes across the state, with a skeleton staff working to ensure patient safety.
Nurses want one nurse to every four patients on every shift and a pay increase above the government’s prescribed public sector offer of 2.5 per cent.
Protesters rallied outside NSW Parliament House on Tuesday, taking their message to MPs who are returning for the first sitting day of the year.
The rally was one of about 30 around the state.
Nurses, midwives and supporters — many of whom said they would have preferred to be at work — gathered in Queen’s Square, with the crowd spilling over into nearby Hyde Park before marching up Macquarie Street to Parliament House just after 10 am.
The strike is in defiance of an 11th-hour ruling by the state’s Industrial Relations Commission which on Monday ordered the union to refrain from industrial action.
Health Minister Brad Hazzard met with the union on Monday in an attempt to avert the action and says he’s disappointed the strike is going ahead.
“It’s unfortunate … there’s been all sorts of efforts to try and work our way through their principal issues,” he told Sydney radio 2GB on Tuesday.
NSW Nurses and Midwives Association president O’Bray Smith told members on Tuesday the union was offered nothing at the meeting.
“Those ‘crisis talks’ were merely a tickbox so they could go to the IRC and the media and say ‘oh, we tried’.”
Ms Smith says Mr Hazzard and health bureaucrats spent the meeting “mansplain(ing) about life in health”, saying it was striking that “there are so many politicians … making decisions that profoundly impact our working lives, yet they have no background in health”.
The union’s general secretary Brett Holmes says Premier Dominic Perrottet’s praise for health workers, showed he “wasn’t in touch with the real world”.
He says the thousands of health workers who turned out to protest and the “tens of thousands of nurses … back looking after the patients trying to keep them alive” demonstrated the workforce is ready to fight and “stay fighting until we win”.
Nurse-to-patient ratios are the main point of concern.
Mr Hazzard agrees there needs to be enough nurses to ensure patients are safely cared for but says the union’s demands would cost around $1 billion.
“I still need to be able to manage taxpayers’ dollars and make sure it works,” he said.
Mr Perrottet says the patient ratios the union want aren’t effective, and the system hadn’t worked well in other states.
Some hospital workers, like those at Byron Central Hospital, support the strike but won’t leave their nurses’ stations over concerns they already don’t have enough staff to provide the required care.
Liz McCall, a senior nurse at Byron Central said many senior nurses had resigned or retired early during the COVID-19 pandemic because of their workloads, leaving a major gap in nursing experience.