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Federal Budget keeps PHC nurses waiting
Media Release 25 October 2022
Tonight’s Federal Budget has failed to address the growing nurse shortages in general practice and aged care which will lead to a crisis in Australia’s primary health care (PHC) system.
The profession is still waiting for the Federal Government to recognise how serious the shortage of PHC nurses is. Nothing in tonight’s Budget helps to rebuild the profession, retain talent, or recruit new nurses into the biggest workforce in the primary health care sector.
Australia’s 91,000 primary health care (PHC) nurses work outside of the hospital system and are a vital link in meeting Australia’s health needs by caring for millions of patients in settings such as residential aged care facilities, general practices, correctional facilities and schools.
APNA President Karen Booth welcomed the Albanese Government’s commitment tonight to spend more on Australia’s health care and aged care systems. She also acknowledged the work done by the Commonwealth Department of Health to implement a commitment in the 2022-23 Budget for 5250 additional placements for nursing students in aged care, disability care and veteran’s care settings.
However, Ms Booth said this was just a down payment and required concerted action to address the workforce shortage. Ms Booth said the profession would look forward to the Government’s response to the Strengthening Medicare Taskforce recommendations to address these issues.
“Australia’s PHC nursing workforce pipeline cannot meet future demand,” Ms Booth said. “We are already experiencing nurse shortages and we are at risk of not having enough suitably trained PHC nurses to staff aged care homes, general practices, and other primary health care settings. We need a sustainable pipeline of qualified primary health care nurses now to meet the health care needs of the future,” Ms Booth said.
APNA surveys have shown that:
- One in four PHC nurses plan to leave nursing within the next two to five years.
- Australia has also had a 10% increase in nurses planning to leave PHC settings in the next 12 months
- An ageing PHC nurse workforce also means worker retention is a growing problem with many nurses facing retirement (44% of PHC nurses between the ages of 51-65 years old) 
Ms Booth said that this issue is already starting to bite, with a 2021 scheme by the previous Federal Government to recruit 2000 overseas health professionals to meet chronic nursing workforce shortages, in fact recruiting only 24.
In this light, Australia must focus on locally trained PHC nurses rather than rely on overseas-trained nurses to fill the aged care workforce shortfall. In particular, the Albanese Government must move urgently to set up a national model to attract new nurses into the PHC workforce.
This can only work if state and Federal governments coordinate efforts to reflect areas of responsibility:
- The Commonwealth must commit additional funding to support student nursing placements in general practice, aged care, disability, veteran service settings
- State/Territory governments must commit additional funding to support student nursing placements in school nurses, mental health services, maternal/child health, community health, aboriginal health and correctional facilities
This solution will directly benefit hospitals by reducing secondary and tertiary costs This approach will also support nursing career pathways and reduce costs associated with retraining nurses or losing their talents and experience altogether if they leave their principal work setting.
APNA’s existing Student Nurse Placement Program (SNPP) already provides a model which could be scaled up for this purpose.
“Tonight’s Federal Budget fails to devote the necessary resources to retaining primary health care nurses to ensure we can meet Australia’s primary health care needs.
“Primary health care nurses do much of the vital preventative health care screening we need to keep the nation healthy. This saves the health budget billions of dollars a year in hospital and specialist costs. However, this cannot continue if we don’t focus on the challenges facing primary health care nurses.
“The Federal Government has done some good work in creating thousands of additional placements for student nurses in aged care, veteran’s care and disability care settings. But this just isn’t enough. More than 15,000 nursing students graduate each year and very few experience PHC in their studies.
“This is a national problem and we need a truly national solution. All levels of government – Federal, State and Territory - must come together to find a solution to this problem.
“APNA looks forward to working with the Commonwealth, state and territory government, health departments, universities and TAFEs across the country to ensure Australia has a large-enough workforce of PHC nurses to meet future health needs for decades to come.”