Greater opportunities for nurses in primary health care

The Federal Government has received a National Primary Health Care Strategy and a Preventative Health Strategy from taskforces it set up after the Federal Election.

These strategies are the last pieces of the jigsaw, along with the National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission Report released in August, that will provide a framework for setting future priorities in the health system.

The reports build on initiatives introduced in the Federal budget for midwives (see story p14), nurse practitioners and indigenous health.

ANF Federal Secretary Ged Kearney said the adoption of the primary health care and preventative health strategies, which advocate a shift to patient and consumer-centred care, would provide greater opportunities for nurses and midwives.

‘The Primary Health Care Strategy report highlights the inadequate and fragmented state of our health system. One of the biggest problems we have is the lack of a collaborative, team-based approach to health care delivery that puts the patient first,’ she said.

Ged said enhanced roles for nurses and midwives in primary health care is gaining recognition on a national and international level and is considered integral to achieving improved population health outcomes and access to primary health care services.

‘We should respond to patients and local communities on a needs basis when delivering primary and preventative health care. Nurses are already doing this in large numbers around the country,’ she said. ‘We have a serious workforce shortage in the health care sector and we are not currently making the most of our valuable nurses and midwives.’

Funding opens doors for nurses

NSWNA General Secretary Brett Holmes said the report’s recommendations about funding primary care would open doors for nurses.

‘A key element of the Primary Health Care Strategy is a shift away from GP-focused, fee-for-service payments to mixed or blended payments,’ he said.

‘Currently with the fee-for-service model, only doctors get paid and only for treatments for illness. The new strategy advocates payments for health promotion and preventative approaches, which will allow nurses to work to their full scope of practice. Nurses will benefit from this shift in emphasis away from the treatment of illness to health education and early intervention. Nurses are perfectly placed to educate the community about the harmful impacts of smoking, alcohol and obesity before they manifest as chronic diseases.’

The Primary Health Care Strategy can be downloaded online from www.yourhealth.gov.au

Nurses have a major influence in primary health care

Nursing is already central to community primary health care models:

  • 11% of nurses work in primary care.
  • There are 23,800 nurses working in community primary care – 5,700 in general practices, 5,000 in allied health services and 13,100 community nurses.
  • In 2007, 58% of general practices employed one or more nurses.
  • Practices employing a nurse can see more than 800 more patients a year.