World health day: support nurses and midwives

The theme for this year’s World Health Day is ‘Support Nurses and Midwives’. The World Health Organization (WHO) has chosen this in order to remind world leaders of the critical role nurses and midwives play in keeping the world healthy.

The Australian College of Nursing has called on the Commonwealth Government to take the theme to heart and remove barriers to nurses delivering care in the community as well as provide funding and resources that will allow nurses to provide care for people in their homes and via telehealth during the COVID-19 lockdown for the next three to six months.

“In marking World Health Day, WHO highlights the importance of nurses in caring for the community during the coronavirus outbreak and states that without nurses there would be no COVID-19 response,” Australian College of Nursing CEO, Adjunct Professor Kylie Ward FACN said.

The Australian College of Nursing released its A New Horizon for Health Service: Optimising Advanced Practice Nursing White Paper in December 2019 which reinforces how underutilised nurses are and that Australia must act immediately to remove barriers to nurses working to their full scope of practice. With COVID-19 there has never been a more vital time than now to listen to the sound advice of nursing experts.

“World Health Day is an opportunity to remember that health is a human right,” Adjunct Professor Ward said. “Every member of our community deserves access to universal health care and must be able to access the health care they need, preferably close to where they live.

“Therefore, ACN is calling for funding that supports Nurse Practitioners and Registered Nurses to provide care in the community during this pandemic. We want Nurse Practitioners to be able to utilise some of the same MBS item numbers that general practitioners currently have access to and for Registered Nurses to have Medicare Provider Numbers to enable them to deliver funded health care consultations, particularly to vulnerable and marginalised communities, for a period of up to six months.

“While the recent announcements around expansion of telehealth are welcomed, it is not the only solution. Face-to-face consultations are still necessary in many cases to provide hands on care in the community.

“You just have to consider the Department of Health’s latest workforce data to understand the difference this could make. For example, in remote Australia there are just 885 medical practitioners in total, which includes more than GPs, but 4,006 nurses and midwives. The numbers are even more stark in very remote Australia, where of the total 3,613 health professionals, 2,581 are nurses and midwives and just 445 are medical practitioners. Clinicians should be utilised as efficiently as possible to support all Australians.

“Without access to care in the community, patients will default to Emergency Departments and acute care services if they can access them. This will lead to increased morbidity and mortality, greater challenges in containment of COVID-19 and increased burden on our health system.”

To continue to advocate for access and equity, the Australian College of Nursing has established a COVID-19 Workforce Solutions Expert Advisory Group which will lead work towards improving the availability of quality primary health care for all Australians.

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