Regulations governing health professions are stunting Australia’s nursing workforce at a time when it needs to grow, according to Australia’s largest nursing union.
The Australian Nursing Federation (ANF) issued a statement shortly before Christmas, which said nurses who want to rejoin the workforce could be “forced to pay fees of up to $10,000” for refresher courses while the country faced a “critical shortage of nursing professionals”.
The Australian Nursing Federation and its state branches expressed concern that the re-entry programs would deter nurses and midwives from wanting to rejoin the workforce.
ANF federal secretary, Lee Thomas, blamed the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia for the move that she said “would see nurses and midwives who have been out of the profession for five to 10 years undertaking a three-month re-entry competency course, with fees of up to $10,000 being charged”.
“While re-entry courses are important this one size fits all solution does not consider individuals needs,” she added.
But according to the Nursing and Midwifery Board, new laws passed by all state and territory governments on 1 July 2010 had mandated standards that every health practitioner must meet.
The harmonised national standards, agreed upon by all state and territory health ministers, relate to criminal history checks, professional indemnity insurance, continuing professional development, English language skills and recency of practice.
“The whole scheme is about protecting the public … to provide for robust public protection, and the Board believes the standards are necessary for registered practitioners to provide safe care to Australians,” a spokesperson for the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia told AAA.
“[…] The Board does not run the re-entry courses for nurses and midwives and does not set the fees for them. This is done by education providers and costs vary depending on whether there is any government subsidy.
“If a nurse has been out of the workforce and wants to return to practice, they need to apply to the Board for advice about what kind of program will bring their skills up to date. The Board gives advice tailored to the individual. In many cases, a nurse who does retraining gets ‘recognition of prior learning’ so they don’t have to start their course from scratch.
“[…] They make the individual judgements about each nurse. The issue, I believe, is that in New South Wales there was no [previous] requirement that people had recency of practice before July last year; they could still be renewed even if they hadn’t worked for 20 years. The board felt that was not safe, and they were also required by the legislation to set those standards.”
“There is currently an oversupply of graduate nurses, resulting in more nurses than jobs,” the spokesperson added, in response to the union’s argument that Australia faced a “critical shortage” of nurses.
“We believe it’s ludicrous that experienced nursing and midwifery professionals are now being forced to pay significant amounts of money to be re-registered,” the ANF’s Lee Thomas said.
“The industry should be welcoming back nurses and midwives with open arms, instead, they’re making it financially unattractive, in some cases impossible, for them to get back to work.”
According to the ANF, research shows 15 per cent of nurses are retiring every five years with an exodus of 90,000 nurses expected to retire up by the year 2026.
“Quite simply, the number of new nursing graduates cannot keep pace with the exodus of nurses, resulting in a critical shortage of nursing and midwifery professionals,” Ms Thomas added.
“We need solutions, such as incentives and benefits, so we can retain nurses and midwives. We don’t need barriers like these refresher course fees, hindering attempts by experienced nursing professionals wanting to rejoin the workforce.
“The aged care sector alone urgently needs 20,000 extra nurses to meet the challenges of Australia’s ageing population.
“A nationwide survey carried out by Monash University showed that 15 per cent of nurses were likely to leave the industry over the next year, so the problem is only going to get worse.”
Ms Thomas said the growing shortage of nurses would be among the issues the ANF would discuss when it meets with the new federal Health Minister, Tanya Plibersek.
Source: Australian Ageing Agenda