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Supporting those who care

Nurses and midwives drug, alcohol and mental health program outlines a vision for a national program.

Nursing and Midwifery Health Program, Victoria (NMHPV) Chief Executive Officer Glenn Taylor has called for nurses and midwives and nursing and midwifery students in all states and territories to have access to a similar alcohol, drug and mental health program.

The NMHPV was established to provide advice and support to regional and metropolitan nurses and midwives, including students, facing the challenges of alcohol, drug and mental health issues.

Based at St Vincent's Hospital in Fitzroy, the program also has services in Ballarat, Bendigo and Traralgon. It is the only health program of its type for nurses and midwives in Australia.

The previous Victorian Government was a strong supporter of the program and secured funding for three years from the sale of the former Nurses Board of Victoria's assets. That funding runs out on 30 June 2013. The Baillieu Government is continuing to voice its support and is looking for ways to maintain funding.

Previously called the Victorian Nurses Health Program, Taylor used last month's name change announcement to outline his vision for a national health program for all nurses and midwives. The announcement was attended by Victorian Health Minister David Davis, Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency Director of Registration Meredith Bickley, Australian Nursing Federation (Victorian Branch) Secretary Lisa Fitzpatrick, a Director of Nursing from rural Victoria who has successfully supported a nurse through the program and a practising nurse who has successfully used the health program.

"Unfortunately only Victorian nurses and midwives can use this service, but we have a vision for a national program in the future. We're hoping to assist the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency, state and territory health ministers and the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia to introduce this program across the country," Taylor said.

"By offering nurses and midwives a safe place to start addressing their health issues we help make hospitals, health facilities and nursing homes a safer place for patients and residents and we help keep valuable nurses and midwives in the workforce. The program also has broader social benefits as it helps the families and significant others relying on the incomes and physical and emotional support usually provided by the nurse or midwife seeking assistance.

"Nurses and midwives experience alcohol, drug or mental health issues just like the wider community, but it is difficult for them to ask for help without a program like ours as they are often known by the local medical professionals and seeking assistance previously meant risking their registration, their ability to earn an income and their career."

Nurses and midwives may refer themselves voluntarily to the program or they may be referred by their manager or employer. Depending on the health issue clients are supported while they remain at work or while they work on becoming well enough to return to work.

Importantly nursing and midwifery managers support the program and use it for advice and support to assist staff showing symptoms of alcohol, drug or mental health problems.

The program also assists nurses and midwives in managing stressors and issues which are not directly theirs, such as those of their parents, partners or children, but have the potential to impact upon the health of the nurse or midwife.

Go to www.nmhp.org.au or call 03 9415 7551

NMHPV at work
The NMHPV operates on a $514,000 annual budget funded from Victorian nursing and midwifery registration fees. This equates to less than $6 per nurse and midwife.

The NMHPV supported almost 200 nurses and midwives during the 2010/11 financial year.

Between August 2006 and March 2011 the NMHPV opened 560 episodes of care:
* 254 or 45 per cent for alcohol and drug support and 306 or 55 per cent with mental health concerns
*  63 per cent of the alcohol and drug participants presented with primary alcohol issues, 26 per cent regarding over the counter and prescribed drugs, e.g. codeine, and 11 per cent for problems with illicit drugs
*  47 per cent of the mental health participants presented with stress as the primary concern, 20 per cent with depression, 18 per cent with anxiety and 15 per cent other
*  376 participants or 67 per cent were working or studying and 184 participants or 33 per cent were not in employment or studying.

Between July 2010 and May 2011:
*  89 per cent of participants who engaged with the NMHPV entered into a positive therapeutic relationship, which involved ongoing personal support and / or case management.
*  66 per cent of participants who engaged with the NMHPV displayed a significant behaviour change that resulted in an improved health status at the time of separation.
*  81 per cent of participants who engaged with the NMHPV were supported to remain at work, returned to work in nursing or had a plan to return to work in nursing.

The NMHPV provides assessment, referral to a variety of services including specialist counselling and financial support, case management for those with alcohol and drug issues, peer support groups and general advice regarding work-related issues.

The NMHPV provides employers with practical support, advice and referral to manage employees' sensitive and complex issues.

NMHPV board directors, appointed by the members, include the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) and the Australian Nursing Federation (Victorian Branch).

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