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Budget to add 100 nurses to NSW schools

As the NSW government looks to hand down its 2020-21 budget, treasurer Dominic Perrottet has given people a taste of things to come in his pre-budget announcements on Sunday.

The budget will be squarely aimed at post-COVID-19 recovery, stimulating the economy and getting people back to work in a state where 7.2 per cent of residents are currently unemployed.

However, a number of health focused spending measures will also be handed down, including: $56 million on palliative care, $100 million on new ambulance stations in regional areas, and the fast tracking of Stage two of the $1 Billion redevelopment of Penrith’s Nepean Hospital – including a new ICU among other upgrades.

Also announced was the creation of 100 new nursing jobs. Perrottet said $46.8 million will be spent on embedding 100 nurses in schools across the state to support students with mental health.

It is an expansion of the Wellbeing and Health In-Reach Nurse (WHIN)  program and Perrottet said the new funding would mean thousands more students across the state would have access to a nurse at school.

“With the added stress of COVID-19 on our young people, the further expansion of this program will ensure children, young people and families don’t miss out on the support they need,” he said.

“NSW Health will fund these positions, however the practitioners will work with the Department of Education, with data and evidence to be used to place the nurses in areas of most need.

“This commitment is an investment in the mental health of young people across the state and will build a more resilient post-pandemic NSW for the future.”

Minister for mental health Bronnie Taylor said the pilot program – which placed nurses in six regional schools between 2018 and 2020 – was a success and that the wellbeing nurses had supported vulnerable students for a range of health and mental wellbeing issues.

“With the pilot program, we saw that school children often go and see the nurse about general health issues and once they are there, open up about other problems they have been experiencing,” Taylor said.

“The nurses will be given mental health training but are also there to deliver general health care and advice at the right time."

Teachers' union says more has to be done

However, as reported by the SMH, the NSW Teachers' Federation said that nurses should not replace counsellors across a school system that is already understaffed.

"On average, there's one counsellor for every 750 students," said deputy president of the NSW Teachers' Federation Henry Rajendra.

"Counsellors are people who have dual qualifications as a teacher and a psychologist, so they have that specific expertise that draws together the two disciplines and are best placed to provide that assistance to students.

"It's all well and good to have nurses in schools, but we need both."

This spending news comes on the back of a recent announcement that the Berejiklian Government will cap annual public sector wages growth at 1.5 per cent in the upcoming NSW Budget, to reportedly save an extra $1.8 billion over three years.

NSWNMA general secretary, Brett Holmes, said the treasurer’s decision to cap wages growth is opportunistic and puts the state's nursing workforce in danger.

“At a time when the Berejiklian Government should be investing in wages and securing the future of our health workforce, they are locking NSW into a low wage, low growth future that will send nurses and midwives interstate,” said Holmes.

“Why wouldn’t a nurse want to flee to Queensland or Victoria where they can work with better pay and legislated nurse-to-patient ratios?

Eat out to help out?

The treasurer also announced that residents of NSW would each receive $100 in vouchers to spend on eating out and entertainment in a move to jump start the sectors hard hit by the pandemic.

Everyone over the age of 18 will be given four $25 vouchers as part of the ‘Out and About’ scheme, costing the government $500 million.

The government intend the vouchers to be used at cafes, clubs, restaurants or the performing arts, cinemas and other cultural outlets.

The vouchers cannot be used on retail, alcohol, gambling or cigarettes.

The scheme is reminiscent of the UK’s ‘Eat out to Help Out’ which offered the people of the COVID-ravaged nation a fifty per cent discount on food if they dined out Monday to Wednesday.

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