Short­age of nurses runs deep

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From Health cover

days get­ting ‘‘ worked up’’, hav­ing blood tests, X-rays and fast­ing; and you would hang around for a few days af­ter­wards, con­va­lesc­ing and hav­ing your drains taken out.

‘‘ Now the av­er­age stay is more like three days and peo­ple go home with their drains still in. Ev­ery­one in hospi­tal is at the very pointy end of their health need — to put a very un­skilled first-year nurse into that en­vi­ron­ment is very un­fair, and very un­safe.’’

But while the ANF is much more pos­i­tive about La­bor’s plan to in­crease univer­sity train­ing places for reg­is­tered nurses, Kear­ney con­cedes more also needs to be done to make sure the hospi­tal sys­tem has the ca­pac­ity to ac­cept th­ese ex­tra nurses when they are ready for clin­i­cal place­ments — some­thing that is far from cer­tain cur­rently.

‘‘ What we are hear­ing from the univer­si­ties is that it’s very dif­fi­cult to get places in the hos­pi­tals for clin­i­cal train­ing,’’ Kear­ney says.

As the head of the body rep­re­sent­ing the univer­sity nurs­ing schools, this is ex­actly Daly’s point.

‘‘ It’s not as sim­ple as just in­creas­ing the num­ber of places in the univer­sity sec­tor. Cer­tainly that would help,’’ he says. ‘‘ But the univer­sity schools of nurs­ing have is­sues at the mo­ment be­cause we can’t ac­cess the clin­i­cal places for stu­dents who have al­ready gone through the sys­tem.

‘‘ The short­age of clin­i­cal places, and of reg­is­tered nurses who can be em­ployed to do the clin­i­cal teach­ing, lim­its the num­bers of stu­dents we can put into the sys­tem, be­cause we can’t find the nurses (to su­per­vise them).’’

Daly says ‘‘ a num­ber of strate­gies’’ are re­quired to fix the sit­u­a­tion, one of them be­ing more con­crete steps to at­tract back into the work­force some of the es­ti­mated 30,000 nurses no longer work­ing in the pro­fes­sion but still en­gaged enough to main­tain their pro­fes­sional reg­is­tra­tion — sug­gest­ing they are keep­ing the op­tion of a re­turn open.

‘‘ If the work­force is los­ing peo­ple, then we have a prob­lem,’’ Daly says. ‘‘ We have lost a lot of ex­pe­ri­enced reg­is­tered nurses, so ju­nior nurses don’t have the role mod­els. If more can be done to bring them back, that would be help­ful.’’

But what will work best to re­con­sti­tute some of this nurs­ing di­as­pora is it­self a mat­ter of con­tention.

La­bor has also an­nounced cash bonuses to at­tract for­mer nurses back into the pro­fes­sion. Un­der the plans, nurses who re­turn will be paid $3000 af­ter six months, and a fur­ther $3000 af­ter 18 months — an at­tempt to min­imise the risk that some will sign on, col­lect the cash, and then quit once again.

La­bor says 7750 nurses could ben­e­fit from this scheme, but al­ready an­other of the nurs­ing bod­ies is warn­ing it could ‘‘ also have a neg­a­tive ef­fect on our cur­rent nurs­ing work­force’’ if it goes ahead in the way pro­posed.

‘‘ I have had re­sponses from ex­ist­ing nurses who have stuck with the present sys­tem as other have left,’’ ex­plains Tracey Os­mond, chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Col­lege of Nurs­ing.

‘‘ A num­ber have called me di­rect and said ‘ I feel a bit miffed they are go­ing to give a hand­out when I have been stuck here all along’.

‘‘ I have had a cou­ple of peo­ple say­ing they are about to hand in their res­ig­na­tions — and they will be back again when they are en­ti­tled to this $6000 bonus.’’

All the pro­fes­sional bod­ies say they were dis­ap­pointed not to be con­sulted by the par­ties be­fore th­ese plans were drawn up, par­tic­u­larly the Coali­tion’s pro­posal to shift train­ing back into hos­pi­tals, the plan they op­pose the most.

An­other rea­son why nurs­ing is in a pickle, ac­cord­ing to Kear­ney, is that much of the data on nurs­ing is out of date — the most re­cent data, for 2004, be­ing a case in point — and the sys­tem suf­fers from there be­ing noone at a fed­eral level to ar­gue for nurs­ing’s needs.

‘‘ Nurs­ing makes up over half the health work­force, and yet we don’t re­ally have any­one at a fed­eral level co-or­di­nat­ing that,’’ she says, adding there should be a fed­eral Of­fice of Nurs­ing headed by a bu­reau­crat with the same sta­tus as the ex­ist­ing Chief Med­i­cal Of­fi­cer.

Kear­ney also thinks too much fo­cus is placed on hos­pi­tals and throw­ing money at them ‘‘ willy-nilly’’.

‘‘ They are by far the big­gest em­ployer of nurses, but a lot of nurses leave from burnout, from stress, and from not be­ing able to pro­vide ad­e­quate care,’’ she says.

‘‘ We have to stop look­ing at just hos­pi­tals. What we are call­ing for, from any party, is to look across the board at how we can take pres­sure off the sys­tem.

‘‘ Peo­ple are throw­ing money at the hos­pi­tals, but if they started throw­ing money at pri­mary care and aged care, that would re­duce a lot of pres­sure on hos­pi­tals.’’

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