A project team has been appointed and work is afoot on the rollout of a new national support service for Australia’s nurses and midwives.
The Albanese Government has invested $25.2 million to establish and run a national nurse and midwife health service to provide peer-to-peer counselling, case management and referrals after years of lobbying by the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF).
The project team kicked off on 23 January, with the new National Nurse and Midwife Health Service (NNMHS) anticipated to be operational in early 2024.
Newly-appointed NNMHS Director Heather Pickard, a registered nurse (RN) and founding CEO of the Nursing and Midwifery Health Program Victoria (NMHPV), said she was delighted that funding had been secured for this “incredibly invaluable service”.
“This will make a real difference in individuals’ lives. The strong wellness focus offers a compassionate response to sensitive health issues,” Ms Pickard said.
“Approximately 10% of the community experiences an episode/episodes of mental illness and/or substance use challenges, and nurses and midwives are no different. What is different is that they can be resistant to getting treatment due to the high regulatory framework they work in and the culture within nursing and midwifery of being the helper.
“The free, confidential and independent service will provide holistic case management for complex health issues and the provision of health information.”
The ANMF Federal Office is leading the national rollout framework in consultation with the Australian and state and territory governments, key service providers and nursing and midwifery peaks.
ANMF Federal Assistant Secretary Lori-Anne Sharp welcomed the federal government’s commitment to a national program to care for the health and wellbeing of nurses and midwives.
“Nurses and midwives have carried us through the pandemic and they’re continuing to support the community in the ongoing response. This service will be vital in offering support across the professions, and it’s fantastic that we have an established framework and the experience and solid success of the Nursing and Midwifery Health Program Victoria to guide us along.”
The new national service committed in the 2022-23 Federal Budget is modelled on the NMHPV, which has been operating since 2006. The NMHPV is a free, independent and confidential nurse-midwife-led service for Victorian nurses, midwives and students who experience sensitive health issues related to mental health, substance use, family violence, or anything affecting their health and wellbeing.
Glenn Taylor, CEO of the NMHPV since 2008 and an RN, said the program was unique in that it provided a safe place for any nurse or midwife, or student to come and speak to one of their own who has experience working in the profession and quite often has a lived experience with issues like stress and anxiety.
“We can help them navigate a path through the challenge they’re experiencing in a safe way and really challenge the fear and stigmas associated with being a nurse who isn’t quite right, or is struggling for a period of time.”
The new national service aims to help Australia’s nurses and midwives, including students, to better manage their health and wellbeing with counselling and case management services. The support aims to reduce increasing rates of fatigue, stress and burnout, which have escalated since the start of the pandemic.
“Our nurses and midwives contribute so much to our communities, and it’s imperative that we support them to manage their health in a way that works for them. Expanding this program nationally is about providing that support in a welcoming, accessible way,” said Federal Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care, Ged Kearney.
“This is about providing a familiar front door for nurses and midwives to be able to talk about their mental health concerns to their peers who just get it,” said Ms Kearney, also an RN and former ANMF Federal Secretary.
The point of difference of the new national service from most EAPs is that it is designed and run by nurses, enabling unparalleled connection and providing unlimited sessions.
The stigma-free entry point offers tailored counselling and case management, and specialist referrals to respond to mental health issues requiring additional services for nurses and midwives with a range of health issues. Registered nurses, midwives, and nurse practitioners will offer free, confidential and independent counselling, case management, health information and specialist referrals. Telehealth counselling will also form a significant part of the service, making it more accessible to nurses and midwives in regional and rural locations.
The service will operate through four central hub locations, including Victoria-Tasmania, New South Wales-Australian Capital Territory, South Australia-Western Australia, Queensland-Northern Territory, and additional regional offices. A stakeholder consultation process will ensure that the Victorian model is localised to suit each state’s and territory’s needs.
The NNMHS will help to keep more nurses and midwives healthy, supported, and retained in the workforce, said Deputy Director of the NNMHS Mark Aitken. An RN for more than 30 years, he has worked at the NMHPV and was part of the team who set up Nurse & Midwife Support (national phone service).
“This case management health service will be an additional complimentary service and potential referral pathway from Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) and Nurse & Midwife Support, the national 24/7 support service that provides brief interventions, counselling and referral pathways and treatment providers,” Mr Aitken said.
For contact with the NMHP Victoria visit https://www.nmhp.org.au/