Monday, January 26, 2009

NSW Needs More Than Federal Funding For Nurses

Originally posted 3-Oct-2008 at

On 29-Sept-08, Prime Minister Rudd held a doorstop press conference at John Hunter Hospital, Newcastle (NSW). In it, he announced funding for an additional 1100 nurse training positions at Australian universities. That’s less than half of the 2600 applicants turned away in 2006. In NSW, Enrolled Nurse training will be changed under the recently-agreed award. EN’s are trained through TAFE and on-the-job training. Effectively NSW will train fewer nurses (EN’s), and some of that will be picked up by the announced federal funding of RN places. “For the future of our hospital system, we’ve got to make sure that we are training enough qualified nurses“, Mr Rudd said.

But there are other points to consider:
  • Training is one thing, but there is no extra funding for more full-time positions in hospitals. Mr Rudd would argue that that is a State matter, and it is, but it is also part of the problem. Unless the States have, or find, more money to fund employment positions, training more nurses will result in more part-time positions shared by more nurses who will work fewer hours.
  • The shortage is not just that there are no nurses, but in retaining existing nurses, and encouraging the return of those who have left. The poor image of some of NSW’s major hospitals is an impediment, and will only be corrected by significant investment in new infrastructure; new, or updated equipment; and staffing. Here, we are paying for sins of the past 13 years of Labor Governments in NSW. The current Government’s budget position is, at best, tenuous.
  • There is still a set of divided responsibilities between Federal & State governments. Health care might need a plan for a controlled Federal takeover of all health funding, with States delivering the services.
The accelerated $20 billion Federal funding for infrastructure, agreed to at the Perth COAG meeting, will help. States need to commit to recurrent funding for staff & equipment, too, and that’s a problem!