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International Nurses Day

18 May 2023

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (17:05): I rise to speak in favour of this motion. I want to thank the Hon. Mr Martin for putting this forward. It is a worthy matter for this chamber to discuss and a good opportunity for us to reflect on the huge contribution that nurses make to our state.

Every year on 12 May the world comes together to celebrate the nursing profession on International Nurses Day. The nursing profession has had a long and tumultuous past few years, with the onset of COVID-19 and all the challenges that has posed for our health sector. International Nurses Day is a time to reflect and to celebrate the breadth of skill and contributions that nurses make to their communities.

Nurses play an essential role in society. They play a central role in delivering health care. Nurses advocate for health promotion and educate patients and the public on the prevention of illness and injury. They provide care, they assist in cure, they participate in rehabilitation and they provide support. No other healthcare professional has had such a broad and far-reaching role. But nurses do much more than just care for individuals, they have always been at the forefront of change in health care and in public health.

Nurses innovate. Florence Nightingale, who the Hon. Iren Pnevmatikos talked about earlier, is regarded as the founder of modern nursing and remembered as The Lady with the Lamp. Yet, she also collected data to prove that the main cause, by far, of fatalities in the Crimean War was not enemy fire but infections attributed to improper sanitation. She was a pioneering statistician and possibly the first person in history to use graphs and charts to persuade politicians to act.

Nurses provide ongoing assessment of people's health. Their round-the-clock presence, observation skills and vigilance allow doctors to make better diagnoses and propose better treatments. Many lives have been saved because an attentive nurse picked up on an early warning sign of an upcoming crisis such as a cardiac arrest or respiratory failure.

The theme for this year's International Nurses Day is A Voice to Lead: Our Nurses. Our Future. Set by the International Council of Nurses, the 2023 theme addresses the global health challenges exacerbated by the shortage of nurses. Nurses are crucial in all parts of health care, whether it be acute, preventative, primary or community care.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, Australia faced critical nursing shortages, caused in part by the shrinking supply of nursing school graduates and a significant decline in the number of nurses who have been able to migrate from other countries. I note the government has announced some initiatives in that regard in recent days and we certainly welcome that.

We need to increase nurse staffing to patient ratios and skill mixes to ensure that patient safety, better health outcomes, higher recruitment retention, continued professional development and adequate training of staff are all being provided for. InDaily reported last year that nearly 75 per cent of nurses work unpaid overtime and 25 per cent work double shifts.

Our health system is at risk of further nursing shortages due to the longer term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. In June 2022, the South Australian Greens called for a one-off $3,000 thank you payment to healthcare workers in recognition of their heavy lifting during the pandemic. According to the McKinsey 2021 Future of Work in Nursing Survey, one-fifth of Australia's registered nurses say they intend to leave their current role in the next 12 months—one-fifth. Forty-one per cent of these nurses say they are planning to move countries or to leave direct care roles altogether. By 2025, anywhere from 20,000 to 40,000 nursing positions could be left unfilled in Australia and that poses significant challenges for our health system.

Surveyed nurses cited a desire to seek higher pay as the number one reason driving them to leave the profession; however, having a positive work environment, caring teammates, a safe space and a sense of purpose is important to nurses wanting to remain in the profession. Mitigating the risk of severe nursing shortages requires a comprehensive all-of-government approach. We need to redesign the training pipeline to attract greater numbers of potential nurses to Australia and to the sector. Retention is the most powerful lever we have to address the short-term supply gap; however, merely offering competitive compensation is not enough.

To excite and better engage nurses, stakeholders need to work together to pilot practices to increase nurses' autonomy, to recognise them more effectively and to build goodwill. To attract nursing staff, employers, the health industry and governments need to foster better ways of working for nurses. Employers need to consider the composition and capabilities of care teams to better utilise existing skill sets and qualifications.

We need to learn from the lessons of the pandemic and translate these into actions for the future that ensure nurses are protected, respected and valued. I certainly want to use this opportunity to put on public record my thanks on behalf of the Greens for the great work that nurses have done and continue to do to keep our state safe and healthy. I commend the motion.