The year of the Nurse and Midwife takes on new meaning

2020 was meant to be a year of celebration for nurses and midwives around the globe as they commemorated the 200th anniversary of the birth of the founder of modern nursing, Florence Nightingale. Instead, in this Year of the Nurse and Midwife, the public eye has fallen on our nurses for completely other reasons.

Secretary of the Queensland Nurses and Midwives’ Union (QNMU), Beth Mohle told The Westender the Union had plans to highlight the contribution of nurses throughout 2020, but now, simple appreciative gestures such as Clap for our Carers are welcomed.

“Celebrations have been put on hold, but our members will do what they always do – just get on and do the job”.

 “We’re looking at other ways to make sure that we can continue to celebrate. And, the community demonstrating their appreciation is greatly valued,” Ms Mohle said.

“Our workforce is still 90% women and it’s unseen until people are at their most vulnerable, when they realise the important work that we do.”

Well, we are certainly seeing them now, and we are also seeing the important work unions do to represent their members and ensure their safety.

Compounding acts of kindness

Ms Mohle said that the QNMU really appreciates the practical support being provided by groups such as Adopt a Healthcare Worker – South Brisbane

“What will really get us through this as a community is what I call compounding acts of kindness …, the more that you do random acts of kindness, the more that compounds and that will spread.

“… things like mowing lawns, doing shopping, people just doing things like that – reaching out and helping people who need help.”

“Health workers have been really so appreciative and touched by the people who have reached out to help them”.

How can the Community support our Health Workers?

The answer from Ms Mohle is simple: maintain physical distancing, wash your hands, and observe hygienic practices.

 “The most important thing you can do is to isolate as the Government is asking Australians to do, it’s really, really important”.

“Just doing the simple things of making sure you’re fastidious about hand washing … old fashioned soap and water is the best thing to do,” Ms Mohle said.

Ms Mohle suggests, for a bit of fun, downloading the “Wash your lyrics” poster generator. You can feed in your favourite song and print a poster to pin up in the bathroom. You then wash your hands for as long as the song takes, Ms Mohle says, or for three lots of “Happy birthday to you”.

Ms Mohle also encourages people to have the seasonal influenza vaccination to take pressure from health services

“It’s really important that we decrease the load on health services in relation to genuine influenza this season”.

But Ms Mohle urges people to stay connected.

“Please stay connected. Don’t socially isolate, physically isolate, and stay connected with family, friends … because a concern that we’ve got is the long term psychological and emotional cost of what we are being forced to do because of this pandemic”.

Respect Nurses

It is hard to believe that Ms Mohle needed to tell me that QNMU also needs the community to respect our health workers.

“We’ve had some instances of abuse of nurses who have been in uniform in public,” MS Mohle told me.

“People have to respect our workers and their work”.

Ms Mohle said she knows that people are feeling very stressed and anxious but says,

“Everybody just needs to take a deep breath, be present, be in the moment…we absolutely appreciate that people are suffering from anticipatory grief right now, particularly healthcare workers who are seeing what’s happening around the world, in Italy and the US, and including the impact on Health Care workers.

“The bottom line is that we have to prepare for the worst and then anticipate the best. That’s what we are hoping for”.

“One thing I’d like to say to everybody is please stop watching 24-hour news. Ration your news dosage to be just at the beginning and end of the day. Only go to reputable news sources, don’t listen to nonsense online. And always go to trusted news sources,” Ms Mohle said.

Planning for and combating the coronavirus

The QNMU is the largest union in Queensland with over 62,000 members, and the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) is the largest union in Australia. These unions present the changing face of unions in Australia where the modern trade unionist is now a woman who is in middle age and who works in areas like health or education, community service or public services.

Like other unions, the QNMU is a key player in planning for and combating the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic in Queensland.

Ms Mohle said that the QNMU has been working with Queensland Health and planning for the pandemic since January 2020.

“We were aware that this was going to be an issue,” she said.

This builds on existing relationships and work. The QNMU has had what’s known as an “introspective problem-solving approach” to industrial relations with Queensland Health since 2006 (with a short hiatus during the Newman era).

This approach enables the QNMU to work with Government on industrial issues, occupational health and safety (including access to personal protective equipment (PPE)), professional ethical considerations, and work and family issues, and it has positioned the union to gear up its response with Government during this crisis.

Safety Equipment

During a pandemic everybody in the world needs access to the same supplies at the same time, and while we have been hearing stories that there’s not enough equipment to go around in some places, in New York for example, Ms Mohle said that she is currently confident that Queensland has enough equipment.

“My heart goes out to nurses and midwives around the world because of what they’re experiencing right now”.

“That is fundamental to keeping our members safe: access to adequate PPE, masks, shields, gowns, gloves etc, “Ms Mohle said, “… I’m confident Queensland is better prepared than just about any other state or territory in relation to PPE.”

The QNMU has been lobbying the Queensland Government to make sure that as a State we are not overly reliant on overseas suppliers, and Ms Mohle says that the Queensland Government is working hard with local producers for PPE supply[1].

“I am confident we have sufficient PPE supplies in the public system and with the National stockpile, it should be enough.”

“What we’ve don’t have and something I’ve been calling for, is one consistent PPE guideline or policy approach within Queensland Health. We’ve got 16 Hospital Health Services, and until you actually mandate the Guidelines you use, there is always the potential for there to be local adaptations, and that’s the last thing we want. So, we’re arguing for one policy for PPE.”

In respect to calls for hazard pay for nurses, Ms Mohle says,

“…you shouldn’t be getting money for going into dangerous situations, we should have adequate PPE so that your hazards have been reduced sufficiently. We should be removing or minimising, as far as possible, the hazards that are encountered by our members.”

Keeping Members and the Community Informed

The QNMU provides regular Covid updates to its members via emails and its webpage. See HERE

Ms Mohle says the Union would also like to see in Australia what has been done in New Zealand, where a single webpage called Unite Against Covid covers the whole of the country and provides a single source of advice, not just on the disease, but on economic support, and other arrangements for citizens.

“We’ve been focused on the health response, which is totally appropriate to getting on top of the clinical issues, but we haven’t paid sufficient attention to the communications that will come through to the community and to decrease the anxiety and concerns of everybody,” Ms Mohle said.

The things that matter

In conclusion, Ms Mohle thinks that while this is a very scary time and unprecedented in the lives of most of us, some good things may emerge from it.

“And one of those is the hope that it will actually rebuild a sense of community and also a focus on the things that are really important in life. It will give us time to reflect on those things”.


Image of Beth Mohle supplied

[1] The Federal government is responsible for supplying aged care, primary health care facilities and NDIS services with PPE.