The lessons of the ‘devastating winter of 2020’ will not be lost, Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley promised at the 2021 ANMF (Vic Branch) Delegates Conference.
‘That winter will shape our collective consciousness as to how we go about rebuilding a better funded public health system,’ Mr Foley said.
‘We are learning lessons every day in this pandemic…and our systems in many, many ways have had to prove themselves capable of responding at a pace never seen before.’
The COVID-19 pandemic had had an ‘unacceptable’ impact on so many ANMF members and the lessons learned were already informing substantial changes to health and safety measures, Mr Foley said.
‘The fact that so many healthcare workers did get COVID-19 in unacceptable circumstances is something that has been burned into my consciousness to make sure it never repeats.’
Mr Foley was speaking on 25 June 2021, eight days after Melbourne’s May/June lockdown ended. During the COVID-19 outbreak that prompted the lockdown, two staff members working for Arcare Maidstone aged care facility and a nurse working at Epping Private Hospital contracted COVID-19.
He said the fact that some aged care and healthcare staff had contracted COVID-19 despite the preventative measures put in place showed there was no room for complacency.
Mr Foley thanked the hundreds of ANMF nurse and personal care members who had stepped in to care for residents in private aged care facilities during the 2020 winter ‘and in the most unbelieve of circumstances from the reports I’ve seen, not only saved lives but dealt with conditions that in a modern first-world country stand as a condemnation of governments at every level but particularly the (Federal) government responsible for regulating private aged care.’
‘If not for the leadership you showed and if not for the hard work you showed, more people would have died awful and unnecessary deaths,’ Mr Foley said.
Mr Foley said he hoped the opportunities for reform that the royal commission into aged care presented were not lost and the systemic gaps highlighted by the COVID-19 outbreaks in Victorian private aged care facilities would be addressed.
Mr Foley said ANMF members’ work in COVID-19 testing and vaccinations had also been central to Victoria’s COVID-19 response.
Vaccination is a race, Mr Foley said, ‘a race being marshalled by the workforce I’ve got the privilege of talking to here today’.
Nurses and midwives are hardworking, well-trained professionals but nursing and midwifery are also deeply human professions that reach all areas of our lives, he said.
In a moving end to Mr Foley’s presentation, he showed a photograph of his mother, a St Vincent’s Hospital-trained nurse, who passed away when Mr Foley was eight years old.
‘To this day, the network of nurses and supporters that she had around her still provide support to us…I know you, and I know your union’s leadership, and it’s that kind of passion and support that endures through your lifetimes that will drive this government to work in partnership with this union to deliver the best and most enduring healthcare service that we can possibly build in this country.’