During the unillustrious days of the Howard government, one of the many areas selected for funding cuts was tertiary education. Although VSU was still yet to come, lessening the budget had an immediate knock-on effect, with the consequence that, at Sydney Unviersity and others, the most expensive-to-run courses were axed, or at best retained at significantly diminished capacity.
Concurrently, the media and general public were sinking their teeth into the problem of hospital shortages: in particular, the notable dearth of midwives and nurses. While concern over the number of available beds was also an issue, this, at least, has eased a little with time. Given a few years, it’s possible to add new wings to this hospital or that, but it’s not possible to train more nurses and midwives than universities have placement for.
You see where I’m going with this: because the courses most hard-hit by the withdrawal of federal funding were – surprise, surprise! – nursing and midwifery.
That was four years ago. Fast forward to today’s news, in which the Royal Women’s Hospital has been forced to initiate a pull-back plan on its maternity services due to a lack of midwives. The next phase redirects low-risk pregnancies to Sunshine hospital; but Sunshine itself is still 10 midwives short.
So let’s do the math. Bigger hospitals and a rising birthrate = greater demand for nurses and midwives. Until or unless VSU is revoked and federal university funding increases (hint, hint, Mr Rudd), diminished training capacity = fewer nurses and midwives. Result: demand outstrips supply, and given how long it takes to train competent nurses compared to putting up a building or conceiving a child, the sooner we fix things, the better.
Anything else is a recipe for disaster.