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Profession still waiting for change

Groups call for new government to commit to a National Nursing and Midwifery Workforce Strategy. Greta Marsh reports.

While there has been much talk about the national nursing and midwifery skills shortage, little has been achieved to address the issue, with immediate action long overdue.

This is according to the College of Nursing and RCNA, with both organizations demanding the government make available sufficient resources to do this – whichever party it ends up being.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) had reported state-wide skills shortages of registered nurses and midwives in all jurisdictions, and shortages of enrolled nurses in NSW, Queensland, Western Australia and ACT.

The current workforce is also ageing.

“If this trend continues, which appears likely, then we are facing a situation fairly soon where our most experienced nurses will be leaving the workforce. This will exacerbate existing shortages and create additional skill mix problems,” Debra Cerasa, RCNA CEO, said.

Between 2003 and 2007, the proportion of nurses who were aged 50 years or older increased from 28.2 per cent to33 per cent, according to AIHW figures. On the other side, there is a reduction in the proportion of nurses in younger age categories.

It made for an alarming situation, said Tracey Osmond, College of Nursing CEO.

“Although evidence has been available for many years showing the nursing and midwifery workforces are getting older, there have been no comprehensive, coordinated plans to address the implications of this,” she said.

Both Osmond and Cerasa said the new government needed to commit to the development of a National Nursing and Midwifery Workforce Strategy.

The strategy should, at a minimum, consider the following in relation to current and future health service planning: workforce profiles; practice models; leadership and management models to support the profession; educational preparation and professional development requirements, and; recruitment and retention.

“We need a massive commitment to ensure the nursing and midwifery professions are able to anticipate and effectively bridge the gaps that will emerge as the workforce starts to retire in large numbers. It is not just about numbers. It is also about how we shape the future workforce to meet the community’s future health needs,” Osmond said.

The need for a workforce strategy was supported by a recent survey conducted by the RCNA.
When asked to identify the top three priorities for reform, 40 per cent of the 370 current and future nurses and industry representatives attending a recent RCNA expo said such a strategy was in need.

Of the 24 other key priorities for the incoming government, 35 per cent named the need for specialist nursing roles across the aged care sector and 33 per cent identified nursing and midwifery mentorship programs.

“This small survey from a cross section of people working and wanting to work in the health care sector reinforces the industry’s wish for broad grassroots reform,” Cerasa said.

“We know there is an ageing nursing workforce. We know there is a need to improve skills to meet the challenges of e-health and changing models of care.

“What we need now is the strategy to ensure resources are directed to where they are needed, to ensure the health systems can be sustained into the coming decades,” she said.

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