Health authorities have been criticised for seemingly encouraging nurses and midwives to acknowledge “white privilege” when treating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients.
Conservative crossbench senator Cory Bernardi yesterday seized on new codes of conduct for nurses and midwives, due to take effect next month, that reference concepts of “cultural safety” long accepted in indigenous healthcare circles.
In the glossary to the codes, the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia cites the Congress of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nurses and Midwives in referencing “a decolonising model of practice based on dialogue, communication, power sharing and negotiation, and the acknowledgment of white privilege”.
That reference was not used in the glossary of the draft code released for consultation last year, and the subsequent submission from the congress did not use the term “white privilege”, although it has used it elsewhere.
While not central to the codes, that aspect of the 20-page document had Senator Bernardi warning of a “new medical Marxism”.
“Welcome to the brave new world of nursing, where catering to others’ self-declared victimhood and catering to their emotional whims and fantasies is as important as fixing their physical ailments,” he told supporters in his daily newsletter. “If we really want to fix what’s wrong with elements of our society, we would stop indulging this garbage.”
Senator Bernardi said the reference in the glossary would require nurses and midwives to acknowledge white privilege “on demand”.
However, the codes require nurses and midwives only to engage with patients “as individuals in a culturally safe and respectful way, foster open, honest and compassionate professional relationships and adhere to their obligations about privacy and confidentiality”.
After a review last year, the board released an explanatory statement to stress “cultural safety and respectfulness is the responsibility of all nurses and midwives”.
“By embracing this principle, nurses and midwives provide leadership in building a health system free of racism and inequity, and one that is equally accessible to everybody,” it said in September.
“The codes advocate for culturally safe and respectful practice and require nurses and midwives to have knowledge of how their own culture, values, attitudes, assumptions and beliefs influence their interactions with people.”
The review took more than two years and included working groups, focus groups with professionals, two consultations with consumers and a specialist review to focus on cultural aspects and the indigenous health context.
Initially, a single code was proposed but a backlash over plans to use “person and people” instead of “woman and women” led that aspect to be rewritten for the midwives code. The sentiment was not as strong among nurses so their code refers to “person and people”.
Following Senator Bernardi’s newsletter, the board brought forward the release of a joint statement with the congress on culturally safe care. It does not refer to “white privilege” or address any consequences of its inclusion in the glossaries.
It said the codes required midwives and nurses to “acknowledge that Australia has always been a culturally and linguistically diverse nation” and the impact that historic factors such as colonisation have had on indigenous peoples’ health.
By Sean Parnell | The Australian
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