EDITORIAL: University of Newcastle's nursing school fielding complaints

IN July last year, the Newcastle Herald published an article that looked at a range of issues inside the University of Newcastle’s School of Nursing and Midwifery.

The Herald’s investigation was prompted by concerns, expressed from various sources, about the way the school was being managed. One of the main concerns was a move to change the way that nursing students are sent on “placement” to hospitals, and other facilities that employ nurses, for them to receive their practical training.

Others related to the treatment of staff, and to the long-term future of the school, including a potential move away from the main university campus at Callaghan.

In its immediate response, the university’s senior management defended the operation of the school, and took issue with some of the details of complaints made to the Herald. In the intervening months, the university has brought in an external organisation to conduct a review of aspects of the school’s operation, and it has hired a number of new staff to replace the high-profile members whose departures had triggered some of the original concern.

But despite these assurances, there are various signs that the school is still facing problems, and that the difficulties predicted with the shakeup of the placement system have occurred as its critics feared would be the case. While the Herald accepts that students may well have to travel some distance afield for their placements, some of the examples complained of by students – including placement in a jail clinic – seem well justified. The Herald accepts, too, that management has the right to make changes, but at the same time, the university should remember that it is a publicly funded institution – some $450 million a year in federal funds alone, at last count – and that it needs to be accountable to the community it says it wishes to be a part of.

Nobody pretends that a large, modern university is an easy place to run, or that every complaint from a student or staff member will be justified.

But there is a consistent tenor of disquiet emanating from the nursing school that appears to be more than just isolated incidents, and which is still apparent eight months after the Herald’s original article.

While ever these concerns remain, the university may have trouble in living up to its recently confirmed rating as one of the world’s top 100 nursing schools.

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