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Recruiting staff vital: Plibersek

With the Australian Nursing Federation polling nurses, midwives and the public on whether the Gillard government is doing enough to address staff shortages, Nursing Review asked the Minister for Health, Tanya Plibersek, her thoughts.

As a patient, as a carer, and most recently as Health Minister, I have had the chance over and over again to see the skill, dedication, professionalism and humanity of our nursing workforce.

After a year in the job, I've had the pleasure to meet and talk to many, many nurses, and have come to know that they are absolutely committed to the task of helping make the standard of healthcare in this country amongst the best in the world.

But I am also acutely aware that the near future will bring a range of challenges: an ageing population, increasing rates of chronic disease and rising healthcare costs.

That is why the Gillard government is constantly looking to improve our health system with new treatments, better patient care and more efficient administration. Our nursing workforce is a critical part of this desire for improvement.

We have already made a significant investment to expand, support and retain our nursing workforce. In the 2010 budget we provided $523 million over four years to support practice nurses and aged care nurses and nurse practitioners.

The Living Longer Living Better aged care reform package announced in April this year by my cabinet colleague, Mark Butler, provides $1.2 billion over five years to tackle critical shortages in the aged care workforce, which includes nurses.

We have invested $84.7 million over four years to provide more than 1100 new nursing scholarships each year, including $20.2 million for education up-skilling in emergency nursing.

But we have more work to do. I acknowledge the challenge of finding jobs for graduating nursing students and the Health Workforce Australia report, Health Workforce 2025, which predicts a nursing workforce gap unless we make a change.

We recognise that action is necessary to meet these challenges and I will continue to work with all Australian health ministers, the Australian Nursing Federation and other peak nursing groups to find solutions.

Indeed, in early November, all health ministers agreed to develop strategies to recruit and retain nurses. These will address the issues of nursing shortages in the future through the four key areas: more efficient training and education, workforce and job redesign, immigration and workforce distribution.

Building a sustainable nursing workforce will require the collection and analysis of data, the trialling of health workforce redesign strategies, the exploration of new models of care and the extension of the scope of nurses.

I want to keep the nurses we have already by ensuring their jobs are varied and interesting, and I want to see states and territories putting our keen young graduate nurses to work.

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