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The Australian government has handed the Rural Locum Assistance Program (Rural LAP) a three-year funding extension to allow it to continue supporting the rural and remote health workforce, including nurses and midwives, by subsiding health services out bush to manage leave entitlements and still maintain their service delivery to local communities.

The funding extension until 30 June, 2022, will help support a range of eligible health professionals including nurses and midwives, aged care facilities, allied health professionals, obstetricians, proceduralist GPs in obstetrics and anaesthetics, and metro GPs providing locum support under the rural locum education assistance program.

The program provides highly-qualified locums to rural and remote locations around Australia.

Since beginning in 2011, Rural LAP, a component of the Australian Government’s Rural Workforce Capacity Agenda managed by healthcare solutions provider, Aspen Medical, has helped subsidise more than 6,500 leave requests.

“Important changes have been made over this time that have strengthened the program and helped provide greater leave coverage to the rural and remote health workforce,” Rural LAP National Manager Nadia Milosevic said.

Ruth Bellingham, a Nurse Manager at the Triangie Multi-Purpose Health Service (MPS) in New South Wales, said that distance and population size contributed to the risk of fatigue among rural and remote health professionals.

“Staffing shortages on occasions such as illness or family issues can lead to a build-up of excess leave as staff try to pull together to cover shifts. The pressure for managers to get staff to take leave but not always being able to get relief is a constant. I was hopeful the program would continue as it is really helping staff at our MPS and the people of our town.”