Nursing, midwifery, and care worker workforce reform

Care worker workforce reform

Nursing and midwifery workforce reform in Australia is essential for adapting to changing healthcare needs, improving patient outcomes, addressing health disparities, and ensuring that the right number of skilled professionals are empowered and enabled to provide timely and high-quality care.

It demands strategic planning, improved education, and policy changes to help build a sustainable workforce that meets the increasing demand for healthcare services. 

Challenges to achieving this outcome include addressing undergraduate nursing and midwifery student attrition rates. The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) has identified that students not being able to work while undertaking mandatory clinical placements is part of the problem. 

“Clinical placements are often demanding, requiring students to dedicate significant time, money, and resources to gain hands-on experience in healthcare settings. Typically, students complete 800 hours of unpaid placements throughout their degrees,” ANMF Federal Secretary Annie Butler said. 

“This limits their ability to work part-time jobs to support themselves, causing untold financial and emotional strain.” 

Feedback from the ANMF’s state and territory branches suggests some of the most common problems with the current system include a lack of affordable student accommodation, a lack of support to facilitate travel to placements, especially in rural and regional areas, and lack of support from clinical placement providers and preceptors. 

“This year, the ANMF has committed to lobbying both federal and state governments to provide funding to pay nursing and midwifery students while on clinical placement to safeguard our future workforce,” Ms Butler said. “Paying students undertaking clinical placements will help ease the financial stress and burden they currently face and, importantly, allow them to remain enrolled and committed to their studies as they strive to join the workforce.” 

The growing need to attract and retain skilled nurses and midwives is also high on the ANMF’s agenda. 

Fostering a satisfied and engaged workforce is now paramount for the sustainability of the workforce, and the ANMF is actively engaged in developing a range of strategies to tackle these issues. This will include developing strategies to enhance the recruitment of nurses and midwives, especially new graduates, and, most significantly, implementing strategies to improve retention in all settings, particularly in rural and remote areas, by exploring incentives like allowances. 

The National Nursing Workforce Strategy is poised to provide a future-focused national direction for the profession to ensure it continues to meet the evolving care needs of Australian communities. 

Additionally, the implementation of strengthening Medicare reforms, including the independent Scope of Practice Review, is underway.

This review is exploring ways to unleash the full potential of primary healthcare professionals, allowing them to work to their full extent of skills and training. The focus is on the system changes and practical improvements to enhance productivity and deliver safe, affordable patient care. 

A joint response from peak nursing organisations in Australia, including the ANMF, highlighted shared issues and offered insights into maximising the impact of the Scope of Practice Review. Key recommendations included prioritising patient/consumer-centred care, ensuring access to the best care from all healthcare providers, especially nurse practitioners, advocating for funding reform, and supporting ongoing education and professional development for primary healthcare nurses and midwives.

Additionally, removing existing barriers preventing access to the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) and Pharmaceutical Benefits Schedule (PBS) by nurses and midwives will prove crucial to enabling them to work to their full scope of practice. 

“Supporting nurses and midwives to work to their full scope of practice will enable equitable access to safe and affordable primary healthcare for all Australians,” Ms Butler said. 

“Working to and expanding their scope of practice by incorporating new areas of clinical work and education offers nurses and midwives the opportunity for expanded career pathways and progression, increased job satisfaction, and reduced burnout and attrition.” 

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