Nursing education


The Liberal record on nursing education

  • In 2004 as part of its higher education reforms, the Coalition recognised nursing as a national priority, increasing Australian government funding to higher education provi¬ders to support clinical training for nurses and maintaining a committed cap on HECS fees for nursing students.
  • Increases in funding for clinical education of nurses from $688 to $1,000 in 2007 for every Commonwealth-supported full-time equivalent nursing unit of study.
  • Despite an initial decrease in the num¬bers of registered nurses being educated, falling from 7,094 undergraduate nursing completions in 1995 to 4,857 in 2000, the Coalition has in¬creased under¬graduate nursing places by 2,854 since 2001, with an additional 1,000 places announced in 2007 and a commitment to a further increase of approximately 1,735 places by 2010.
  • 420 of new places announced in 2007 have been allocated for places in courses with a mental health major; with a commitment to a further increase of 728 places by 2010.

Labor’s plan to boost nurse numbers

Kevin Rudd has pledged $81 million to fund a plan to put 9,250 new nurses into Australia’s hospital system.

Within five years, Federal Labor’s plan aims to provide:

  • Around 1,500 new graduate nurses; and
  • Cash bonuses for 7,750 trained nurses to attract them to return to work in our hospitals.

The plan comprises:

  • Cash bonuses of $6,000 to nurses who have been out of the health workforce for more than a year to return to our hospitals, which will be available to 7,750 nurses over a five-year period;
  • Nurses who re-enter the hospital system will be paid $3,000 after six months back on the hospital ward and a further $3,000 after 18 months;
  • A contribution of $1,000 to hospitals per re-entry nurse to assist with the costs of re-training and re-skilling;
  • More nursing places at universities – 500 new places in 2008 and an extra 1,000 commencing students every year from 2009 – which will deliver an extra 1,500 nurses into the system within five years; and
  • Universities will be asked to offer at least a quarter of these new places to TAFE-trained enrolled nurses seeking to upgrade their qualifications.

Labor’s incentives will be open to all nurses working in Australia’s hospital system – including midwives, mental health nurses, theatre nurses and emergency department nurses.

NSWNA General Secretary Brett Holmes says the cash incentives to bring nurses back into the workforce are welcomed but there is still a need to ensure that some of the $2 billion promised to public health is used by the State Government to retain nurses already in the system.

‘That clearly means better wages and working conditions. State governments are already spending thousands of dollars to recruit overseas nurses to fill our shortfall. There is no sensible reason that similar amounts should not be used to get our own Australian nurses back into the health system.’

Hospital-based nursing schools won’t fix a decade of neglect
The federal government’s plan to establish new schools in hospitals is no solution to the nursing shortage.

Responding to what he admitted was a ‘desperate’ shortage of nurses, Prime Minister Howard announced his government would fund 25 schools in public and private hospitals to train an extra 500 enrolled nurses a year.

Howard said students with Year 10 school qualifications would be eligible for the courses, which would usually take about 18 months.

The plan to return to hospital-based nursing schools represents ‘old time thinking from a worn-out government’, said Brett Holmes, NSWNA General Secretary.

‘Nurse training moved to the tertiary sector almost a generation ago because the profession understood it needed highly trained nurses capable of delivering the highest quality care,’ Brett said.

‘Australia needs more university trained nurses with on-the-job experience.’

Howard admitted his government failed to consult with the nursing profession before devising the plan which has been criticised by leading nurse educators.

They include the Acting Dean of Nursing, Midwifery and Health at the University of Technology, Sydney, Denise Dignam, who accused the government of ‘attempting to play on the nostalgia of the public for hospital training.’

Her comments were supported by the Executive Director of the Royal College of Nursing, Rosemary Bryant, who said funds to pay for hospital-based schools would be better spent on more TAFE places for enrolled nurses, more clinical placements for student nurses or more places for nursing students at university.

Even if it goes ahead, the federal govern¬ment’s plan to train an extra 500 enrolled nurses a year is a drop in the bucket com¬pared to the health system’s unmet needs.

Back in 2004, the Howard government was provided with an Australian Health Workforce Advisory Committee Nursing Workforce Planning Report which warned that over the next decade Australia will need up to 13,500 new registered nurses and 5,734 new enrolled nurses each year.

Despite this report, 2,408 applicants were turned away from registered nursing courses at universities last year because there were not enough places.

Federal underfunding of university places remains a core part of the problem.