(Introduction by Croakey)
Nurses and midwives must take responsibility for improving the cultural safety of health services and systems for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients and colleagues under new codes of conduct that take effect on 1 March.
The new codes – available from the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia (NMBA) website – also state that nurses and midwives must provide care that is “holistic, free of bias and racism”.
The principles of the new codes apply to all types of nursing and midwifery practice in all contexts, whether it is paid or unpaid, clinical or non-clinical, and to all settings where nurses and midwives engage, including face-to-face, publications, or via online or electronic means. Practitioners who hold dual registration, as both nurses and midwives, must comply with both codes.
As Croakey readers may have seen reported recently, Senator Cory Bernardi and the Australian Conservatives have taken umbrage at the new codes of conduct, deriding them as “political correctness” and making other misleading, ill-informed comments.
In the article below, Associate Professor Lynette Cusack RN, Chair of the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia, says the new codes of conduct for nurses and midwives “provide common sense guidance on how to work in a partnership with individuals and communities to ensure they are getting care that meets their needs”.
Lynette Cusack writes:
Taking action to close gaps in health outcomes is not political correctness; it is the right thing to do.
Nurses and midwives have a duty to provide care that contributes to the best possible outcome for the person/woman they are caring for. They need to work in partnership with that person/woman to do so.
As a member of the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia (NMBA), I have a duty to set standards for nursing and midwifery that ensure individuals and communities receive the best possible care for their needs. The NMBA works with nurses and midwives, the public and community leaders to do this.
It is clear that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples still experience poorer health outcomes than non-Indigenous Australians. It is clear that health leaders, like the NMBA, need to take action.
The new codes of conduct for nurses and midwives provide common sense guidance on how to work in a partnership with individuals and communities to ensure they are getting care that meets their needs.
The codes are evidence-based – their development included extensive academic research and analysis of conduct complaints concerning nurses and midwives.
They are also the product of consultation with the very people they affect: nurses and midwives, and the people they care for.
One section of the new codes sets specific guidance around working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. As the Closing the Gap report and campaign show, together as a country we have a lot of work to do to ensure that all Australians have access to healthcare that meets their needs.
The NMBA worked closely with the Congress of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nurses and Midwives to develop the codes of conduct, which provided expert advice in this area.
There have been recent comments about this section of the code of conduct, which have failed to understand its purpose or its requirements: nurses and midwives simply need to provide care that takes into account people’s culture and needs.
When nurses and midwives challenge beliefs based on bias or assumption, and work in partnership with people and communities, they contribute to better healthcare experiences for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
This is called “cultural safety”. It is not a new concept. Many nurses and midwives are already practising in a culturally safe and respectful way, even if they have not heard the term “cultural safety”.
Many health and welfare organisations already provide training for all their staff on cultural safety.
The real impact of nursing and midwifery is at the daily practice level. Nurses and midwives make up more than half of our country’s regulated health workforce. We are leaders in health.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples experience poorer health outcomes than non-Indigenous peoples. Nurses and midwives are leading the way to close that gap.
• Associate Professor Lynette Cusack RN is Chair of the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia
Further reading and background
Also see Croakey’s previous articles about cultural safety, including this call for cultural safety training for politicians (cough, cough Cory), and this overview of new National Safety and Quality Health Service Standards, which aim to tackle problems such as institutional racism and culturally unsafe services and workplaces.
Note: As declared here, Melissa Sweet undertakes occasional writing and consultancy work for the Congress of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nurses and Midwives (CATSINaM), which contributed to development of the new codes and has welcomed them.