It’s been a busy 6 months advocating for PHC nurses

By Karen Booth, APNA President 

Source: APNA Primary Times Winter 2023 (Volume 23 Issue 1)

APNA President Karen Booth with Commonwealth Chief Nurse Alison McMillan and Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael Kidd on the last day of the Strengthening MedicareTaskforce processAPNA President Karen Booth with Commonwealth Chief Nurse Alison McMillan and Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael Kidd on the last day of the Strengthening MedicareTaskforce process


I’m sure at some point you will get an APNA President’s Message that reports a steady-as-you-go 6 months with business as usual (BAU). This message will not be a BAU report. The last 6 months has been even more active than in my December 2022 message. 

Sadly, COVID-19 continues to be with us. In December 2022, there were 20,000 more deaths reported for the year in Australia than would have been expected had the pandemic not happened. Of the excess deaths, more than half were due to COVID, and another 2,900 were due to the aftereffects of COVID. Of the remaining 6,600 excess deaths, COVID-19 was not mentioned on the death certificates.  

Whilst the reporting of COVID-19 has died down in the media and restrictions have for the most part been lifted, this disease still wreaks havoc in our community.1 January and February 2023 saw a considerable upswing in COVID infections and hospitalisations. At the beginning of May 2023, there were almost 3,000 active cases in aged-care facilities.2 And there are still a high number of health professionals on sick leave with COVID-19. All of these factors increase pressure on primary health care (PHC) services, which carry the load for the majority of care and preventive activities, and flu season is coming. Nurses play a major role in protecting the community against vaccine-preventable disease and we applaud your ongoing efforts.  

APNA has supported the launch of influenza vaccination season. I attended the Seasonal Influence Roundtable in Canberra where we looked at the planning for balancing the need for dual vaccination programs for the COVID-19 vaccine booster and the new-season influenza vaccines. It was acknowledged that nurses are key drivers in the immunisation effort and that there would be an added load for health services this season. I pointed out to the Department of Health and Aged Care (DOHAC) secretariat that whilst the influenza vaccine is provided free for certain groups, there is no guarantee that the vaccinations will be bulk billed, a situation that needs to be monitored to ensure that it does not affect access to influenza vaccination. Hopefully the recent budget announcement to increase the incentive payment for bulk billing will support access to free vaccines for children and health-care-card holders. 

APNA also supported the Immunisation Coalition launch of flu vaccine season. I had the pleasure of participating in the Sydney event with Professor Dominic Dwyer. Simultaneous events were held in Melbourne and Brisbane with volunteer immunisers providing free vaccines to hundreds of people. 

In nursing news, the National Rural and Remote Nursing Generalist Framework 2023–2027 has now been published to help guide nurses through a career pathway to rural and remote nursing.3 The Framework will provide a guide for educators and course developers to the essential requirements to support nurses working in the bush.  

Another important piece of work by the Office of the Rural Health Commissioner is nearing completion: the Ngayubah Gadan Consensus Statement on Rural and Remote Multidisciplinary Health Teams. Both of these documents embed cultural safety as core components. I was very proud to represent APNA on both of the advisory groups.  

The Nurse Practitioner Steering Committee has completed its work. The consultation was comprehensive and included yarning circles and consumer feedback and was strongly supportive of the NP role. The Nurse Practitioner 10 Year Plan was launched on 16 May by Minister Ged Kearney and is available on the DOHAC website.4 APNA supported this much anticipated work that will support career development for PHC nurses. Coupled with the Health Minister’s announcement of the imminent removal of the restrictive collaborative arrangements legislation, this will be welcome news to our NP members. On the wider nursing workforce, the National Nursing Workforce Strategy Advisory Group will meet in June. Discussions about nurse prescribing are now back on the national agenda, so watch this space. 

APNA President Karen Booth with Minister for Health and Aged Care Mark ButlerThe Health Minister Hon. Mark Butler has handed down the recommendations from the Strengthening Medicare Taskforce. Those recommendations include significant changes to the way PHC is funded, especially for long-term chronic disease care and with a greater focus on multidisciplinary care and stronger roles for PHC nurses. In recognition of the need to build the PHC nursing workforce from the bottom up, as proposed in APNA’s pre-budget submission, Minister Butler, in his address to the Press Club on 3 May, announced funding for 6,000 student nurse clinical placements in PHC. This is in addition to the previously announced support for student clinical placements in aged care. The Minister has also announced initiatives to support team care and build the capacity of the PHC nursing workforce. APNA welcomes the Treasurer the Hon. Jim Chalmers’s confirmation in the budget of funding for 6,000 student placements over 4 years and the MyMedicare and chronic disease funding reforms that will promote a more contemporary team-based approach to care. 

‘Scope of practice’ is an often-misunderstood term, used as a barrier rather than an enabler of health professional activity. Minister Butler also announced a review of the scope of practice across health disciplines. If we are to meaningfully utilise health professionals to their full potential to deliver care, then we need a clear understanding of skill sets, overlaps and how best they work together. APNA welcomes this announcement and looks forward to the next steps and actively participating in the review. 

Finally, before I sign off, I want to give a shout out to our enrolled nursing workforce. Enrolled Nurses are a vital part of the workforce, providing care and support in many parts of PHC. They are key supports for patients, their families, and registered nurses in aged care. They provide a dedicated, educated and skilled perspective to care and form part of the right skill mix to manage nursing care for vulnerable people. APNA will continue to lobby and advocate for Enrolled Nurses, and hails your efforts. 

 

References 

1 COVID-19 Mortality Working Group, ‘Almost 20,000 excess deaths for 2022 in Australia’, Actuaries Digital, 6 March 2023, accessed 19 May 2023. www.actuaries.digital 

2 Department of Health and Aged Care (DOHAC), ‘COVID-19 outbreaks in Australian residential aged care facilities’, DOHAC website, 5 May 2023, accessed 11 May 2023. www.health.gov.au 

3 Office of the National Rural Health Commissioner, The National Rural and Remote Nursing Generalist Framework 2023–2027, Department of Health and Aged Care website, 24 March 2023, accessed 19 May 2023. www.health.gov.au 

4 Department of Health and Aged Care (DOHAC), Nurse Practitioner 10 Year Plan, DOHAC website, 16 May 2023, accessed 19 May 2023. www.health.gov.au 

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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