Legislative Council: Wednesday, February 22, 2023


Nurses and Midwives

The Hon. J.S. LEE (Deputy Leader of the Opposition) (15:43): I rise today to ask the people of South Australia to question the Malinauskas Labor government about their priorities. Before the last election, Peter Malinauskas promised to fix ramping as a top priority, but sadly, under this Labor government, our health system is rapidly deteriorating. It is very disappointing that Premier Malinauskas' priorities are all wrong.

Earlier this week, it was reported that nine people waited more than 24 hours for a hospital bed and 16 waited over 12 hours for a bed, trapped in hospital emergency departments. We repeatedly asked Labor ministers in this place and the other place questions regarding the health crisis in this state. We were ignored and we received no answers. South Australians who are sick and need urgent medical help are suffering the impacts of record ramping and chronic emergency department overcrowding.

Please allow me to take you back to earlier this month, on 2 February. Data showed that 20 patients waited more than 12 hours for a bed and some more than 24 hours. When vulnerable patients' lives were at risk and in need of urgent health treatment, where was Premier Peter Malinauskas on that day? Sadly, he was not in South Australia. He was on Bondi Beach, running shoulder to shoulder with New South Wales Labor opposition leader. A picture of the pair running, stamped with the Baywatch logo, was posted by New South Wales Labor on Twitter. It was the clearest sign that Peter Malinauskas had the wrong priorities.

For the public record, on Peter Malinauskas' watch ramping has soared 135 per cent to record levels. The health crisis has never been worse. Our hospital system continues to struggle under record ramping and emergency department overcrowding, with South Australian families paying the price.

The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (South Australia) estimated that by the year 2025 South Australia alone would be short by 10,000 to 15,000 nurses and midwives. To address this problem the Liberal Party is calling on the Malinauskas Labor government to make it easier for South Australians who wish to re-enter nursing to gain the required qualifications. Former nurses have raised concerns with the Liberal opposition over the difficulties and obstacles they are currently facing for them to regain their nursing registration. Many nurses who have been out of practice for five years or more are required to complete a Nursing and Midwifery Board-approved re-entry to practice program.

For registered nurses these programs are offered at the Australian College of Nursing in New South Wales, the Central Queensland University, La Trobe University in Victoria and Western Australia's University of Notre Dame. Students at ACN, CQU and Notre Dame must relocate interstate for at least part of their studies. La Trobe offers a more flexible online program; however, a fee of $8,250 must be paid up-front, with no subsidies or FEE-HELP loan scheme in place.

There are so many barriers for former nurses wanting to re-enter the profession in South Australia. Former nurses who came forward to speak with the Liberal opposition indicated that they are keen to get back to work, reducing the pressures on our health system, but they simply cannot afford the costs involved or spend time interstate to get the qualifications they need.

The Leader of the Opposition, David Speirs, member for Black, together with the shadow minister for health, Ashton Hurn, member for Schubert, are calling on Premier Peter Malinauskas to step up and work with his federal colleagues to make sure that re-entry pathways for nurses are more accessible for South Australians. We need the Labor government to explore every avenue to remove barriers for nurses wanting to re-enter the workforce.

The current barriers for entry for nurses based in South Australia mean that many are simply giving up on the profession. The Malinauskas Labor government must take responsibility and address these issues. The Liberal Party is urging the Labor government to be more proactive in gaining and retaining nurses in South Australia.