AUSTRALIAN nurses are pushing back against a change that requires them to “acknowledge white privilege” before treating patients.
Nurses and midwives around the country must now adhere to a new code of conduct with a section specifically dedicated to “culture” and which details white Australians’ inherent privilege “in relation to Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islanders”.
The new code, which came into effect in March, has been labelled “eye-watering”, “cultural madness” and “unacceptable”. A peak body representing nurses in Queensland is even calling for the chairman of the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia to be sacked over it.
“This is eye-watering stuff,” Graeme Haycroft from the Nurses Professional Association of Queensland told Sky News host Peta Credlin.
“We’re calling for the resignation of the chairman of the board (Associate Professor Lynette Cusack) because she’s put her name to it and it’s unacceptable.”
Credlin called it “almost too hard to believe”. “Before (a midwife) delivers a baby to an indigenous woman she’s supposed to put her hands up and say: ‘I need to talk to you about my white privilege’, not about my infection control, my qualifications or my training as a midwife?” she asked Mr Haycroft.
He said that was correct, but there’s no requirement to “announce” anything. The nurses must simply abide by the new code which state clearly that “cultural safety is as important to quality care as clinical safety”.
“Cultural safety ... requires nurses and midwives to undertake an ongoing process of self-reflection and cultural self-awareness, and an acknowledgment of how a nurse’s/midwife’s personal culture impacts on care,” the code reads.
“In relation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, cultural safety provides a decolonising model of practice based on dialogue, communication, power sharing and negotiation, and the acknowledgment of white privilege.
“These actions are a means to challenge racism at personal and institutional levels, and to establish trust in healthcare encounters.”
Mr Haycroft said the code was hastily approved with little consultation.
“It’s all of Australia. There’s 350,000 nurses and midwives Australia-wide and they’re all now subject to this new code,” he said.
“We put a little survey on our website and we asked nurses whether they agreed with the code of conduct. Just over 50 per cent of our members have said ‘this is wrong, do something about it, fight it for us’.”
The Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia released a statement on March 1 asking nurses and midwives to “reflect on how the news of conduct relate to their practice”.
“These codes provide a foundation for safe practice and give guidance on crucial issues such as bullying and harassment, professional boundaries and cultural safety. Nurses and midwives need to meet the standards set in these codes, even if their employer also has a code of conduct,” Professor Cusack said.
Nurses and midwives fought the board in November last year when it was revealed a draft of the new code of conduct replaced references to “woman-centred care” with “person-centred care”.
“Midwife means with woman,” UniSA midwifery professor Mary Steen told the Adelaide Advertiser. “The woman is at the centre of a midwife’s scope of practice, which is based on the best available evidence to provide the best care and support to meet individual women’s health and wellbeing needs.”
Professor Alison Kitson, vice president and executive dean of the College of Nursing and Health Sciences at Flinders University, agreed.
“Retaining the ‘woman-centred’ term is important to remind us all that our care is focused on the women and the significant life-changing experience they are about to have,” she said.
On social media, users called the new code “stupid”.
“To think that it will help a person with indigenous blood if nurses would acknowledge their ‘white privilege’,” one woman wrote. “This is basically labelling of victims and oppressors by race. How embarrassing for Australia.”