For too long, nurses and other health professionals haven’t been able to work to their full scope of practice.
Now, the federal government wants to unlock their potential, with a new workforce review, launched last week, set to examine how to enable health practitioners to work to the full-extent of their skills and training, thus improving health access and outcomes.
Recommended by the government’s Strengthening Medicare Taskforce earlier this year, Health Minister Mark Butler said the Unleashing the Potential of our Health Workforce Review would ensure Australia “optimises its health workforce across a stretched primary care sector” and boosts health access and equity across all communities, particularly regional, rural and remote.
Professor Mark Cormack, an accomplished health system and public policy executive, has been appointed to lead the independent review, which will consult states and territories, and health professions, and report findings in the latter half of 2024.
“For too long, too many of our health workforce haven’t been able to work to their full potential,” Minister Butler said.
“Whether it is nurses, pharmacists or allied health professionals, in a global health workforce shortage we need everyone working as close as possible to the top of their scope.”
While terms of reference have yet to be publicly released, Minister Butler indicated the review would look at better understanding the limitations health professionals are working under and removing the barriers preventing them from “getting on with the job”. It will also focus on the immediate benefits of supporting more quality service delivery in, and greater accessibility to, primary care, benefiting all Australians.
When it was announced earlier this year as part of a $6.1 billion federal budget funding-package to strengthen Medicare, the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) labelled the scope of practice review a “positive first-step” in underutilised nurses and midwives playing a greater role in delivering quality healthcare.
Last week, ANMF Federal Secretary Annie Butler, who sits on the Strengthening Medicare Taskforce, said it was crucial the review achieved its ultimate aim – to ensure all health professionals are fully utilised.
“The Review will determine how health practitioners can be supported to work to the full extent of their skills and training, which will lead to greater satisfaction for those practitioners and, most importantly, better health outcomes for our communities,” Ms Butler said.
“Nurses and midwives, who comprise the majority of the healthcare workforce, have the capacity, expertise, and education to vastly improve health equity and access for people living in all areas of Australia.
“The review needs to recognise this and that nurse and midwife-led models of care are effective, feasible, appropriate, and cost-efficient. The Review also needs to address the barriers that currently prevent nurses and midwives from working to their full scope and identify the policy and funding measures needed to ensure nurses and midwives, and all health practitioners, are utilised most effectively. Government must then implement these measures to guarantee a future healthy Australia.”
The Australian College of Nurse Practitioners (ACNP) agreed, with CEO Leanne Boase saying it “makes no sense” to continue to underutilise nurses, “our greatest resource” in healthcare.
“Nurses represent the majority of the health workforce, are underutilised in Australia, and need to be highly valued and supported as skilled healthcare professionals now and into the future,” Ms Boase said.
“As part of that health workforce, Nurse Practitioners and registered nurses working in advanced practice roles must be fully enabled to work, utilising all of their knowledge, expertise and skills to improve health outcomes.”
As part of the review, which has already caused contention among medical groups, nurses will continue to push for expanded scope, including enabling registered nurses to prescribe.
“We need innovation in the types and models of care that use all the skills of our highly trained healthcare teams,” Australian Primary Health Care Nurses Association (APNA) President Karen Booth said.
“There are already very successful models of care using nurses and nurse practitioners to run preventive health clinics and clinics for people with chronic health issues keeping them on track with their health and out of hospital. Registered nurse prescribing would augment team care by giving patients immediate access to their regular medications, most importantly when they can’t access the doctor.”