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Healthcare news: reproductive access and the nurses and midwives campaign

The pandemic has laid bare lack of access to reproductive health services.

Art by Amelia Mertha

Access to reproductive healthcare becomes sparse in lockdown

By Roisin Murphy

Since the Abortion Law Reform Act passed the NSW Parliament in 2019, activists have been working tirelessly to improve access — something that is not at all guaranteed by decriminalisation. 

For people in rural and regional New South Wales, reproductive healthcare is still too often hard to come by. In many cases, terminating a pregnancy not only means the cost of the procedure itself, but also travelling into either regional centres, bigger cities, or across state borders. If there are services in regional areas, the waitlists often mean prolonging an already difficult process, or missing the window for a medical termination, the medications for which are only licensed for prescription up to nine weeks.

Last year, many people became conscious of “border communities” — communities where people live, work and access services on two sides of a state border. What hard border closures also exposed is the issue they pose for reproductive rights: oftentimes, when hard borders are closed, accessing abortion services also means a 14 day quarantine.

In a 2020 ABC report, regional health services were noted as having a heightened number of requests for abortion services, which providers said they were crediting to an increase in domestic and family violence. 

These issues are particularly impacting migrants and people on visas, for whom access to Medicare is limited . They are also much more likely to be in the casualised workforce, whose jobs are  most precarious under lockdowns.

It’s clear that the pandemic and hard lockdowns have laid bare the inaccessibility of  reproductive healthcare in NSW when people need it most. What it’s also shown is that the solutions to abortion access in lockdown are much the same as out of lockdown. By widely offering medical abortion services via telehealth, investing in more rural and regional clinics, significantly removing financial barriers and providing wider-reaching education, access to reproductive healthcare in NSW would be greatly improved – both now and once the pandemic has passed.

The Nurses and Midwives Campaign 

By Mayla River

Despite the fundamental role nurses and midwives play in our society, they are consistently overworked, overlooked, and underpaid. Under the Liberal government, health workers across New South Wales have seen increasing attacks on wages and working conditions. The New South Wales Nurses and Midwives Association [NSWNMA] is currently running a campaign fighting for fair wages and safe working conditions. The key demands of the campaign include a wage increase of 4.7% and safe nurse-to-patient ratios of one-to-four on ward floors and one-to-three in emergency. 

Early June saw nurses and midwives organise a series of strikes to call attention to their situation and highlight their demands from the government. The protest saw over 300 nurses and midwives across New South Wales walk out of hospitals. This strike came off the back of the recent protests by paramedics in NSW who stood down for 3 hours on the 3rd of June, only answering life threatening emergency calls. Similar to the nurses and midwives campaign, NSW paramedics are demanding higher wages that would mirror rates in other states. 

The government initially offered allow 1.04% pay rise offer for the public sector, which was rejected at the end of May by members of the NSWNMA. Most recently, on the 22nd of July, the state government proposed a 2.04% pay rise for the public sector which was approved by the NSW Industrial Relations Commission [IRC]. However, this pay rise was not even close to the 4.7% requested by the NSWNMA. Additionally, the government is still yet to address concerns over staffing numbers, with unsafe staff-to-patient ratios still in place. The General Secretary of NSWNMA, Brett Holmes states, “The NSW government knows we’ve got a staffing crisis in our hospitals and is putting lives at risk by neglecting to adopt shift-by-shift ratios.” 

As the COVID-19 Delta variant spreads through the community, the public is once again turning to nurses and health workers for guidance and medical assistance. During these times, critical issues, such as the demands made by the campaign, get ‘put on hold’ as our attention is drawn towards a new obstacle. However, the issues that these health workers face are not going anywhere.

What can we do as a community to support nurses and midwives?

Although current public health orders mean that we can not attend strikes and protests to support health workers, it is still fundamental that we as a community continue to show solidarity with nurses and midwives during these times. You can keep up with the campaign by following NSWNMA and APA|NSW on social media or sign up at ratioslifeordeath.org.au to receive updates through email. Use #PayOurNursesAndMidwives and #CareForOurHealthCarers on social media to make your own post supporting health workers and bring attention to the campaign.