Strength in primary health care nurses, despite adversity

By Karen Booth, APNA President 

Source: APNA Primary Times Winter 2022 (Volume 22, Issue 1)


APNA has been working hard to provide a primary health care (PHC) perspective on various workforce planning initiatives. The time is right for government action to meet Australia's health care needs.

As the New Year ticked over, everyone was hoping for a brighter horizon and some easing of the burdens of 2021 and COVID-19. Whilst restrictions have eased, the slow burn of the pandemic continues. New variants are more transmissible, but the impact is mostly less severe than Delta. Sadly, the death rate continues to rise amongst the vulnerable and the elderly and the situation is still especially challenging for the dedicated nurses and care teams in aged care. 

Nurses continue to be at the forefront battling COVID-19 through immunising, early identification and support for those who are sick. Most COVID-19 vaccines have been delivered through primary care. That is an enormous effort. Thank you for your amazing work! 

The Health Minister, the Hon. Greg Hunt, retires from politics after the May 2022 election. His role has been especially challenging during the pandemic. APNA wishes him well in his new life, post-politics.  

As I write, we are still a few weeks out from the federal election. Regardless of which party is successful, Australia will have a new federal Health Minister. Every change offers new opportunities and APNA looks forward to working with the incoming government to strengthen primary health care (PHC) and grow a strong nursing workforce. 

Multiple workforce plans are underway. The 10-Year National Nursing Workforce Plan, the 10-Year Nurse Practitioner Workforce Plan, and the review of the Stronger Rural Health Strategy are all in progress. It’s imperative that all these plans are interwoven with a big-picture perspective on workforce planning to meet national health-care needs, rather than generated and implemented in silos. 

Progress continues with the 10-Year Nurse Practitioner Workforce Plan. Stakeholder consultations have been very positive, with wide support for the role of nurse practitioners, especially in PHC and rural communities, where access to health care can be limited. Work is underway to draft the plan, including implementation, monitoring and evaluation frameworks. 

Mapping and modelling are well underway for the 10-Year National Nursing Workforce Plan. APNA has been heavily involved, giving a PHC perspective and representation on the national workforce committee. Data from the APNA Workforce Survey and COVID-19 ‘PulseCheck’ Surveys have helped inform the Department of Health data team about the real work nurses do, what they want to do, and the broad skillset needed across PHC settings. For too long, the PHC nursing workforce has evolved organically, with small expansions or a new government program here and there. This is no longer a satisfactory approach. We need proper planning to build a strong workforce to meet the population’s health-care needs.  

The ‘Educating the Nurse of the Future’ report sat waiting for 2 years to be handed down by the federal government. It is time for real government action and for those recommendations to be implemented. The university and vocational education sectors need a standardized approach to providing PHC course content and meaningful clinical placements. APNA is working with multiple universities to advance the PHC experience for nursing students and to expand post-graduation career options.  

There is great news on the National Rural and Remote Nursing Generalist Framework. Shelley Nowlan, the Deputy Rural Health Commissioner for Nursing and Midwifery, leads a sterling effort to pull the framework together. Committee representation incorporates nursing peak bodies, including APNA, the education sectors and the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Accreditation Council. The Framework sets out the unique context of practice and core capabilities for nursing practice in rural and remote areas. Modelled on the APNA Career and Education Framework, also adapted by the Australasian Institute of Digital Health, the framework will guide nurses in rural and remote practice settings to map and build their career direction. The tool will also enable employers, education providers, nursing and midwifery and health administrators to map learning needs and then build education programs to meet gaps and build a stronger workforce. 

Now for the most exciting news of the year: APNA membership growth is stronger than ever. Welcome to all our new members! You add strength to our collective voice.  

School Nurses Australia merged with APNA earlier this year and we look forward to showcasing this important role in student safety and wellbeing. APNA’s support for nurses in the aged-care sector also strengthens. The recently released ‘Handbook for Nurses in Aged Care’ joins APNA’s suite of educational resources.  

To all APNA members, please keep safe and well. The work you do drives primary health care in Australia and APNA will continue to showcase your work and actively advocate on your behalf.  

Best wishes, 

Karen 

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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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