No time for heart health education, say under-resourced nurses

Media Release    4 May 2022

Almost one in three Primary Health Care (PHC) nurses in Australia say that work and resource pressures mean that they do not perform cardiovascular education and management with patients, according to new national data.

The survey of 1061 PHC nurses by the Australian Primary Health Care Nurses Association (APNA) found:

  • Less than a quarter (24%) of PHC nurses conduct cardiovascular education and management on a weekly basis, down from 29% in 2019
  • Less than a one fifth (20%) of PHC nurses conduct cardiovascular education and management on a monthly basis, down from 32% in 2019
  • almost one in three (30%) of PHC nurses never conduct cardiovascular education and management at all, up from 26% in 2019
  • more than four in five (80.4%) primary health care nurses said they felt exhausted at work.

According to recent Heart Foundation data, at least 27,000 Australians missed out on early detection of heart attack and stroke risk during the pandemic during the COVID-19 lockdowns, which could lead to nearly 350 heart attacks, strokes or heart-related deaths over the next five years.[1]

In a similar vein, the lack of PHC heart health education could lead to an increase in cardiovascular-related admissions to hospitals in the future, increasing the burden on health budgets and potentially leading to a subsequent rise in preventable heart events and deaths.

This resourcing gap in PHC cardiovascular education capability could be filled by placing student nurses into primary health care settings such as general practice or community health to perform supervised activities.

This would simultaneously relieve pressure on overworked PHC nurses whilst enriching the student's skillset, and establishing a pipeline of new, skilled, and experienced PHC nurses for the future.

An existing innovative APNA-run nursing student placement program is already allowing nursing students to play a vital role in primary health care settings while simultaneously accruing their essential clinical placement time under the supervision of experienced primary health care nurses.

There are already 108 Victorian and 32 interstate organisations registered with APNA's student nurse placement program. Building this program so that it can be coordinated nationally would provide a workforce pipeline of motivated and skilled nurses who could help alleviate the staffing crisis in aged care homes, general practice, and other primary health care settings across the country.

APNA has experience running placement programs such as Boosting the Nursing Workforce with Monash University. Since the beginning of the pilot program 18 months ago, APNA has placed 405 students in high quality placements with multiple primary health care providers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Placing more student nurses in primary health care settings to carry out supervised learning and skills training would also support higher rates of screening for chronic disease which is forecast to increase due to COVID-19.

APNA looks forward to working with governments, health departments, and universities and TAFEs across the country to ensure Australia has a large-enough workforce of PHC nurses to meet future needs for decades to come.




“Australia cannot afford for primary health care nurses to be too busy to provide heart health education to patients. Along with cardiovascular screening, it is one of the most affordable and efficient ways of keeping Australia healthy and promoting better patient outcomes.”

“If this situation continues, we will undoubtedly see a much greater number of critically ill cardiovascular patients needing emergency hospital treatment and putting more strain on the health budget.

“Primary health nurses offer the most affordable and effective way of keeping cardiovascular patients healthy and out of hospital. Patients deserve to receive treatment and education from nurses who aren’t run off their feet with too much else to do. Using supervised nursing students as an added resource for nurses will give them extra time and resources to devote to patient care.”

“Two years of helping patients manage the impact of COVID-19 and give millions of doses of vaccines. on top of their normal workload, have left primary health nurses exhausted, overworked, and shorthanded.”

“Australia is at risk of not having enough suitably trained PHC nurses to staff aged care homes, general practices, and other primary health care settings in coming years. We need to create a sustainable pipeline of qualified primary health care nurses now to meet the health care needs of the future.”

“If the Commonwealth could do one thing to help address this issue, it would be to establish a national nursing student placement scheme in primary health care. Primary health care nurses desperately need extra help, and nursing students are a ready-made solution.” 

"What better way can there be to build the skill-set and professional capability of student nurses, and strengthen capacity in primary health care services, than to actively involve them at the coal face under the supervision of suitably trained nurses?”




Media enquiries: Nick Buchan,, 03 9332 9540



The Australian Primary Health Care Nurses Association acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of country throughout Australia and their connections to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to elders past and present and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples today.

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