Government must focus more on Australia’s primary health care needs

Budget is a missed opportunity to address fundamental issues with preventative health 

Media Release    29 March 2022


The Australian Primary Health Care Nurses Association (APNA) has welcomed moves by the Morrison Government in tonight’s federal Budget to partly address the urgent issues faced by primary health care nurses when caring for the health needs of millions of Australians. 

Australia’s 90,000 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. 

However, PHC nurses are exhausted, stressed and burnt out after two years of caring for the hundreds of thousands of COVID-19 patients in aged-care facilities as well as those recuperating at home. Governments also gave PHC nurses responsibility for administering millions of COVID vaccinations on top of their already-overwhelming workload without giving them additional funding or resources to do so.  

This unrelenting pressure has created a crisis in meeting Australia’s primary health care needs, with one in four PHC nurses planning to leave an already shorthanded workforce within the next two to five years.1 

In an initial snapshot of tonight’s Federal Budget commitments1, the Morrison Government: 

  • committed to growing the aged care workforce and ensuring there are pathways for clinical placements within aged care will help to ensure more skilled and dedicated workers are in the pipeline. Additional investment of $14.9 million will address barriers to clinical placements in the care and support sector, attracting 5,250 more nurses. 

  • committed $50.4 million to provide 4,000 training places for RNs in RACFs to become Authorised Nurse Immunisers. 

  • committed $37.6 million to support 2,900 aged care nurses to access infection prevention and control (IPC) leadership training. 

  • Will provide $7.9 million to Primary Health Networks (PHNs) to deploy medical deputies, nurse practitioners and practice nurses to conduct home visits to COVID-19 positive patients in RACFs.  

  • committed $13.9 million towards the Puggy Hunter Memorial Scholarship Scheme, which will support 300 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander undergraduate students in health-related disciplines (including nursing) with full time scholarships worth up to $15,000 each per year and part time scholarships of up to $7,500 each per year. 

APNA President Karen Booth welcomed the inclusion of nursing placements in tonight’s Budget but added that they barely addressed the current issues with keeping Australia healthy, which include an ageing PHC nurse workforce, overwhelming workloads, and a lack of available resources and nurses available to carry out vital preventative health care checks.  

In addition, it is uncertain whether Australia will have enough PHC nurses to cater for future health needs, with thousands of nursing students around the country unable to graduate because they were unable to secure the clinical placement time in medical settings they need to qualify for their degree,  

APNA President Karen Booth said the Morrison Government’s commitments to address the current crisis facing Australia’s primary health care needs falls short of what is required to fix the long-term systemic serious issues facing the profession.  

Ms Booth said the Commonwealth urgently needed to tackle four critical issues to ensure Australia’s health needs could be met for decades to come: 

  • Avoid a forecast shortfall of PHC nurses in coming years by establishing a national student nurse placement system. This would bring nursing students into primary health care settings to help release the pressure on PHC nurses as well as establish a pipeline of new, skilled, and experienced PHC nurses for the future. 

  • Reform General Practice incentive payments to encourage practices to employ and use PHC nurses to best meet patient needs. 

  • Rebrand PHC nursing to recruit new graduates and retain current members in the workforce 

  • Train PHC nurses to help patients with chronic diseases to practice more self care, while also improving the resilience of the PHC nursing cohort to increase workforce retention and reduce burn out due to workload. 

APNA looks forward to working with the Commonwealth, health departments, and 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. 

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QUOTES FROM KAREN BOOTH, APNA PRESIDENT  

“Tonight’s Federal Budget proves that Australia must devote more attention and resources to primary health care nurses to secure Australia’s ability to meet its primary health care needs in years to come. 

“Australia is already struggling to meet the demand for health care in settings such as residential aged care homes due to a desperately short supply of primary health care nurses. These health care professionals have been left wondering – how will we carry out vital preventative health care screenings if we don’t focus now on the issues facing primary health care nurses? 

"For example, the Morrison Government’s decision to splash cash in a short-term sugar hit for aged care workers fails to address the issues that threaten Australia’s ability to meet the health needs of its citizens in years to come. 

“One in four primary health care nurses already tell us they are leaving their jobs in the next couple of years, meaning we will have even less ability to keep Australia healthy in future decades. However, tonight’s Federal Budget does little to fix this issue.  

“Ironically, the COVID pandemic has also left many thousands of nursing students around the country unable to graduate because they were unable to secure the clinical placement time in medical settings they need to qualify for their degree. 

“As a result, 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 profession needs 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. Primary health care nurses desperately need extra help, and nursing students - many thousands of whom find themselves unable to get the clinical placement experience they need - are a ready-made solution.  

“We welcome recognition in the Budget for student nurse placements, but this ignores the fact that Australia really needs a national approach to student nurse placements which is easy for universities and TAFEs to access. It should also be easy for clinical students to access and should attract student nurses to primary health care and give them the opportunity and the choice to build on the clinical areas they need.  

“Any national approach to student placements should also be modelled on existing successful programs such as APNA’s own student nurse placement program.  

"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 in the greatest health challenge of recent times?” 

 

Media enquiries: Nick Buchan, nick.buchan@apna.asn.au, 03 9322 9540 

The Australian Primary Health Care 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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