FEW professions put workers as close to the sharpest edge of the coronavirus risk as nursing. Whether in hotel quarantine, testing hubs or treating those who required intensive care, it was upon the shoulders of medical staff that the country's enviably low case tally was built.
It was perhaps surprising, then, that by last June nurses and paramedics were among those facing a wage freeze as the NSW government sought every scrap to offset the enormous cost fighting the virus has racked up.
Fighting for their entitlements is nothing new for those who do the important work of caring for those who through illness or injury cannot entirely care for themselves. Last week, we had union members calling for quotas in hospitals and asking that the rewards for their efforts matched the intensity demanded of them on a daily basis.
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These are not self-centred conditions. John Hunter Hospital staff have told an inquiry that high levels of demand often led to inferior outcomes for patients, with lengthy waits diminishing their quality of care. Hunter New England Health officials are expected to address some of the concerns when hearings are held later this year.
If nurses win their fight, then, our most vulnerable are among those who will reap the benefits. Of course, nothing comes for free. Government and administrators are eager to supply the best care possible but must make the most of finite resources.
The John Hunter is in line for a $780 million overhaul, which will undoubtedly give health professionals a more modern setting in which to ply their trade. Maitland Hospital's progress, too, is a sign that other hubs exist to help patients.
But it is worth remembering that no matter how beautiful the grounds, or new the development, it is the work within hospitals that matters. That work is conducted by people often paid less than they could make in other fields, and it is crucial that at an absolute minimum disincentives to taking up such noble roles are cleared wherever possible. This is why the federal government has used its funding sway to make degrees including nursing more attractive as the prices of alternatives rose.
There has perhaps never been a better time to make the case for the value of nursing staff, but there have been few worse times to be a nurse than the COVID-19 pandemic. It is time we ensured that nurses' heroism is applauded, not blithely expected.
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