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Time for health policies

The result of the federal election will be pivotal for primary health care, say nurses. Annie May writes.

The federal election is just weeks away and nurses are being urged to push both parties to commit to a workable and sustainable health system that benefits the public and the profession.

Health has always been a prominent election issue, and while the government and Opposition have started to make some plans known, it hasn’t been enough, groups say.

The issue was particularly noticed as not receiving the importance it had in the past during the leaders’ debate between Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, with many criticising both for not discussing health in “any substantive way”.

Announcements that have been made include mental health packages (see page 21) from both parties and Gillard’s recommitment to fund 2000 extra specialist nurses by the end of the decade and to provide emergency room experience for 100 student nurses a year and Abbott’s promise.

The result of the election will be pivotal in how the primary health care landscape will look for the next few years, said the Australian Practice Nurse Association.

Issues that need clarification include support for flexible funding models in general practice which allows nurses to provide a range of clinical services based on practice population needs, the expansion of scope of practice nurses and tackling the growing challenge of recruitment and retention, according to APNA.

Still with primary health care, the Royal College of Nursing, Australia has called for political parties to commit to reforming the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) to give chronically ill patients’ better access to nurses.

“Currently Medicare does not provide a suitable funding channel for the management of chronic disease, as medical associations have already acknowledged,” Kathleen McLaughlin, RCNA acting CEO.

“Increasing coverage for community and primary health care nursing, would take pressure off the already overworked general practice environment. Public health funding could be made more efficient by combining prevention and treatment in team-based community nursing services.

Nurses are able to offer health coaching, support self-management, help individuals identify and reduce risky behaviour and monitor and review an individual’s health status, McLaughlin said.

“Block funding to provide salaried positions for nurses in nurse-led clinics will open up access to health care and reduce dependence on general practice.”

Aged care is another issue marked by groups requiring attention, with industry leaders calling for major political parties to spell out their policies.

“We cannot afford to ignore the issues that have arisen in the aged care sector. The only way to ensure nursing home residents receive the care they need is to establish minimum staffing levels and the right skills mix,” said Lee Thomas, ANF federal president.

“We also need to protect the valuable workforce that looks after growing numbers of high-need residents. That means fair pay. Aged care nurses earn an average of $300 less than their colleagues in other health sectors. This low pay coupled with increasing workloads makes it difficult to attract graduates to the sector.”

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