Nursing workforce is COVID-19 primary health care solution

Enabling nurses to utilise their training and expertise to provide care directly to the community in order to help reduce the spread of infection, support Australians to manage chronic health conditions and keep people out of hospital is vital if the nation is to successfully respond to and overcome the current health crisis it is facing, the Australian College of Nursing (ACN) said today.

The Australian College of Nursing yesterday presented the Morrison Government with a proposal that would enable Australia’s 385,000 nurses to be fully utilised in the provision of care during the pandemic and help protect the health and wellbeing of all Australians.

“A key weapon in the battle to overcome COVID-19 is self-isolation, creating an urgent need for Australia’s health system to evolve to provide significantly more in-home care,” Australian College of Nursing CEO, Adjunct Professor Kylie Ward FACN said.

“Unfortunately, our current health care system does not readily support or encourage care being delivered in people’s homes.”

ACN is calling on the Commonwealth to either immediately implement all recommendations of the Medicare Review Taskforce – Nurse Practitioner Reference Group Report or provide Nurse Practitioners with access to the same Medicare item numbers as general practitioners and give all Registered Nurses access to Medicare Provider Numbers and enable them to provide Medicare funded health care consultations.

“There are currently some Medicare items that fund care provided by nurses, but they are nearly always reliant on care being provided in collaboration with or under the provider number of a doctor,” Adjunct Professor Ward said. “It is time to untether the primary care nurses are trained and educated to do.

“Our primary and tertiary care systems are under immense pressure, perhaps the most immense stress in living memory. We must make our health system more efficient in order to meet demand and deliver care where it is needed.

“With borders closed and health professionals flat out, there are many populations – for example rural and remote communities – where a nurse may be the only locally available health care professional for the foreseeable future.

“Leveraging our registered nurses and nurse practitioners to provide tertiary level care in the community will ease the burden of demand driven COVID-19 healthcare system congestion and optimise outcomes for our most at-risk, by reducing potential exposure to infection while maintaining access to healthcare.

“Nurses are the largest component of the clinical health workforce and we need to empower them to provide care in the community to keep our hospital beds free for the sickest Australians.

“Even if we contain infection rates to the lowest predictions of around 10 per cent of the population, that is still potentially over two million Australians who will contract the virus. With only around 3.9 hospital beds per 100,000 population, hospitals will not be able to handle this overwhelming volume and are not the best place for the majority of patients if we wish to contain the spread of the virus.”

Under the National Partnership On COVID-19 Response 2020 the Commonwealth and the States agreed that people at risk from COVID-19 should have access to “essential healthcare in a way that reduces their potential exposure to infection”.

“If funded appropriately, nurses can facilitate this essential healthcare by coordinating and delivering expert clinical care, particularly for those living with complex chronic disease, in their home,” Adjunct Professor Ward explained. “This must include nurses working in all community and primary health care settings, not just those working in general practice. It is essential we enable nurses to undertake home visits and telehealth consultations to provide the care required to keep the community safe and help people to avoid hospital attendance in both business hours and after-hours contexts.

“We have a responsibility to continue to care for all community members, particularly our most vulnerable, and look after their physical and mental health.”

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