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Expanded role of NP in aged care sector to be explored

Nurse practitioners skills aren't being used to full potential.

The potential role nurse practitioners could have in reducing hospital admissions for older Australian's is to be explored.

Researchers will lead 25 pilots, to be mostly located in aged care residential facilities, designed, according to a statement, to identify 'best practice' in the delivery of primary care to aged care residents.

There are currently more than 500 endorsed nurse practitioners providing care in Australia, according to the Australian College of Nurse Practitioners.

But, lead investigator Professor Rachel Davey, told Nursing Review their skills aren't being used to there full potential.

"When their role is developed properly, as in the UK and US, there have been many benefits. Patient outcomes improve, patient satisfaction increases and when in primary care settings, hospital admissions have been shown to be reduced," Davey, director of the Centre for Research and Action in Public Health at the University of Canberra, said.

While there have been several past pilots of NP's in aged care conducted, this new round will be different at it takes in account the recent changes in the Medical and Pharmaceutical Benefit Schemes, where authorised practice nurses now have prescribing rights and patients consulting with nurse practitioners will be able to claim Medicare benefits.

"These changes have added weight to the push of expanding the NP role," said Davey.

"An ageing population makes it essential that we look at developing and improving the care provided.

Aged care expert and dean of health at the University of Canberra, Professor Diane Gibson said aged care residents experienced difficulties accessing health care.

"It is essential to develop an integrated aged care system that provides improved access to appropriate care to meet the needs of older Australians and their families," she said in a statement.

"Nurse practitioners have a potential role in increasing both the capacity of the aged care system and primary health care services."

As well as bringing similar benefits as has been seen in other countries, expanding the role of NPs in aged care will boost a workforce that is currently struggling, said Davey.

"It has the great potential to have an impact where not a lot is going on. It's been widely reported that the aged care sector isn't attracting highly experienced nurses, so adding a career path for NP's may address this issue," she said.

However, before expanding the role, it was important to find out what works and what doesn't.

"I am pleased that the government is piloting models before picking one and implanting it across the board. As we know, one size does not fit all, and in the end several may need to be introduced."

"Understanding what works best and why it works is vital."

At the same time as the research initiative was announced, Melbourne welcomed its first aged care nurse practitioner, Cheryl Donohue from Broadmeadows Health Service.

To become an endorsed nurse practitioner, Donohue undertook a masters degree in nursing (community health), additional studies in aged care and pharmacology and clinical supervision and mentoring.

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