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National push to help struggling nurses

A proposal to roll out support services to nurses and midwives is currently before the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia. By Linda Belardi

Support services for nurses and midwives with substance abuse and mental health problems could be implemented nationally for the first time, pending the findings of a study commissioned by the national regulator.

The Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia (NMBA) is due to report to health ministers this month on the viability of a national program, similar to services currently available in Victoria.

Established in 2006, the Nurses and Midwives Health Program, Victoria (NMHPV) is currently the only tailored program of its kind that provides case management and referrals for nurses, midwives and students with alcohol, drug and mental health issues.

Funding for the program, currently through assets from the former Nurses Board of Victoria, has not been guaranteed beyond June 30, 2013.

On February 13, the NMBA commissioned consultants Siggins Miller to undertake a comparative study and consult with stakeholders on a national proposal.

The board said funding for any program would need to be carefully considered because the resourcing and program costs would have to be paid by the fees of the 331,185 nurses and midwives currently registered with the national board.

Economic analysis of the Victorian program conducted this year and seen by Nursing Review showed the program saved the government more than $4 million by keeping nurses in employment.

A further $3 million in direct cost savings were achieved for the private system.

Dr Paula Lorgelly, senior research fellow with the Centre for Health Economics at Monash University, said a nurse with substance abuse or mental health problems who has time off work costs on average $52,000 to $70,000 through lost productivity.

Without this service, Lorgelly said many of the nurses who returned to work may have left nursing entirely. Last year, a University of Melbourne study which assessed client feedback also reported widespread endorsement of the program’s benefits.

Glenn Taylor, NMHPV chief executive, said the state program was a confidential service run independently for nurses by nurses. Since 2006, it has responded to more than 700 individual episodes of care for nurses, midwives and students and provided support and information to more than 100 employers.

Among those who have used the program, 81 per cent of nurses were either supported to remain or return to work. He said demand for services was increasing every week and currently two-thirds of all cases were for nurses with a mental health issue.

Nurses in Victoria currently pay $5.69 each per year for the service and in a national rollout, Taylor said the added cost to registration fees would be nominal.

“Nurses and midwives are a microcosm of society. We know this program works and we think nurses all over the country should have the same opportunity as well,” he told NR.

The organisation has proposed to the NMBA that each state and territory be supported to run a health program for their nurses and midwives from funds raised through annual registration. Taylor said local programs could best respond to the needs of nurses and midwives in their state or territory. “Part of the success of the model is that the people who own the organisation are also the people that we are here to service.”

He said the union, the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency and individual employers were the three largest groups who referred people to the program, and the nurse-led service was strongly supported by professional and industrial organisations.

Taylor said research showed nurses were more susceptible to mental health and substance problems due to the nature of their work and their hours of employment. Just last month, Nursing Review reported on new research co-authored by Professor Catherine Turner from the University of Queensland that found 14 per cent of Australian and New Zealand nurses and midwives engaged in harmful drinking.

Following consideration of the report this month, the NMBA will hand down its recommendations to the Health Workforce Ministerial Council.

Related story: [[Story: 09-060312]] Do you have an idea for a story?
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