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Employers can fix workforce shortages

Employers can fix workforce shortages

Paul Gilbert, ANMF (Vic Branch) Assistant Secretary

Midwives, not politics, must be at the heart of the post-mortem discussion about Epworth Geelong’s decision to close its maternity service.

We need midwives to ensure the safe care of women and their babies — before, during and after birth.

From the moment Epworth Geelong sent its proposal to ANMF in late November, our midwifery and nursing members faced employment uncertainty beyond 1 March.

Despite this dark cloud hanging over their heads for 67 days, they continued working overtime and extra shifts to keep the service open. It’s taken a toll on their health and wellbeing.

It would have been understandable if they’d put themselves, their families and their financial security first – especially with the lure of St John of God Geelong’s $6000 recruitment bonuses (an offer that has since disappeared from its website). But they didn’t.

And as thanks, on 2 February Epworth blindsided our exhausted midwives by announcing a surprise ‘option C’ — work another month and then your services are no longer required. Those who stay will have put their lives on hold for a total of 98 days.

Politicians, healthcare service employers and the community need to understand why hospitals are having difficulty filling rosters. Otherwise, we are destined for a tiring, shouty discussion that blames but gets no closer to the solutions.

Healthcare services across the country and the world are experiencing workforce issues because midwives and nurses, slammed by the pandemic and furlough-related understaffing are beyond exhausted. They are reducing their hours to manage fatigue.

Outdated rostering rules, such as refusing midwives’ requests for set shifts aligned with childcare, are compounding the problems.

ANMF and its members first raised understaffing and the overuse of overtime and double shifts with Epworth Geelong management in May 2022. We had serious safety concerns for the women, babies and the midwives. By August, following more midwifery resignations ANMF escalated its safety concerns again to Epworth management demanding action.

For the record, our comments were widely reported in the media at the start of the consultation period. Perhaps more important was our work during December and January, when ANMF met weekly with Epworth Geelong management.

We strongly advocated investment in midwifery recruitment and retention strategies. These included matching St John of God’s $6000 recruitment and retention bonus; appointing a midwife to its executive leadership team; and flexible work arrangements.

But Epworth was not prepared to do the work.

The Abbott Coalition federal government stopped workforce planning when it abolished Health Workforce Australia. With eight years wasted, the heavy workforce lifting has been left to the states and a new federal government.

Initiatives and rostering trials are underway. ANMF will not rest until all private and public healthcare employers understand that listening to midwives and nurses is the key to their workforce woes.

We’ll keep doing this work, invisible only to politicians who care not to know.

Because political grandstanding simply won’t fill the roster.