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As workforce shortages loom, more quality clinical placements are necessary to ensure the country has enough nurses to meet growing healthcare demand, according to Universities Australia.

The peak body for the sector highlighted the issue last Friday following developments from National Cabinet, which endorsed $2.2 billion package of “practical measures” to strengthen Medicare on the back recommendations made by the Strengthening Medicare Taskforce.

The substantial measures, which focuses on improving primary care delivery, aim to support the health workforce, including nurses, paramedics and pharmacists, to work to their full scope.

As part of strategies to expand the nursing workforce to improve access to primary care, the Government will support up to 6,000 clinical placements for nursing students in primary care, as well as encourage primary care practices to support 500 previously registered enrolled nurses and registered nurses re-entering the primary care nursing workforce.

“One of the things that we need to do is to improve primary care delivery, so that it takes pressure off our public hospital systems around the country. And these reforms are practical and will make a difference,” Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, said at a press conference to announce the range of measures.

Universities Australia says it would welcome the opportunity to hold further talks with the Government regarding ways to boost the nursing workforce to improve access to primary care. The objective is easier said than done, it argues, with modelling showing 85,000 nurses will be needed by 2025, and universities graduating just 16,000 nurses each year, well short of demand.

Part of the problem is the lack of clinical placements in the system so that students can complete the qualifications they need to proceed to professional registration, it says.

“COVID-19 highlighted this issue. Nursing completions dropped during the pandemic, largely due to constraints on the system limiting the availability of necessary placements,” Universities Australia Chief Executive Catriona Jackson said.

“Universities are reliant on health service providers to deliver placements for students. We cannot educate more nurses without more – and the right type of – clinical placements.”

Ms Jackson says one way to achieve progress could be establishing compacts with health services to ensure sufficient clinical placement capacity.

“It’s also vital that our sector has a voice in health workforce planning and policy discussions. Education experiences in universities have substantial impacts on workforce outcomes and skill development,” she said.