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Moves to extend HECS relief to nurses

The federal Minister for Health, Tanya Plibersek says she will investigate calls by the National Rural Health Students’ Network for nurses and allied health professionals to be included in the HECS reimbursement scheme.

The federal government will investigate an expansion of the HECS reimbursement scheme to include nursing and allied health professionals in an effort to attract more graduates to work in rural and regional areas.

The Minister for Health Tanya Plibersek has responded to calls from student and professional peak bodies to widen the pool of health professionals that are eligible to receive HECS relief in return for working in hard to staff areas.

Plibersek told Parliament on June 21 that she would work with the Minister for Tertiary Education, Chris Evans, to look at expanding the scheme, which is currently only available to medical graduates.

Last year the federal government spent $7 million on the scheme attracting 530 doctors to work in rural communities.

Plibersek said her office had met with the National Rural Health Students’ Network about their action plan for the future of rural health in Australia which included a recommendation to expand the scheme to nurses and allied health professionals.

Independent MP Tony Windsor welcomed the minister’s commitment in Parliament to investigate the issue. “Health graduates from a variety of disciplines should be encouraged to work in regional areas,” he said.

Calls to expand the incentive are also supported by Rural Health Workforce Australia and the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

Margie Mahon, director of workforce programs at Rural Health Workforce Australia also raised the issue at a recent senate inquiry into the factors affecting the supply of health services.

“If we are serious about creating a multidisciplinary workforce in the bush, a starting point must be the HECS reimbursement scheme currently offered to medical students. This should be expanded to other health professions,” she said.

Plibersek said there was clear evidence that local training was important to meet the needs of local communities.

“We know that people who come from, or study in, rural and regional communities end up working in and staying in those communities.”

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