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Nurses willing and able

By Ged Kearney - posted Wednesday, 25 June 2008


Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon has stirred up a hornet's nest with her proposal to give nurses and other health care professionals the chance to play a greater role in the care of patients.

At its core is the debate about who is best suited to provide primary health care to all Australians. Until now, the GP has been funded as the main provider of primary health care. But, hopefully, not for much longer.

Primary health care is that which is delivered at a community level. It not only deals with resolving illness but also preventing illness and promoting healthy lifestyles.

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The better the primary health care, the fewer people who end up in hospitals, so there is ultimately a benefit to our hospitals and how they are resourced.

Nurses in particular provide an enormous range of primary health care services. These include, but are by no means limited to:

  • NURSES who are diabetes educators, who give advice and care to patients with diabetes;
  • NURSES working in GP clinics who provide an extensive service to the practice's patients;
  • NURSES in outback and country towns who are often the only health professional available;
  • MIDWIVES who care for expectant mums and deliver their babies.

Australian nurses believe the Government should recognise primary health care extends well beyond the services of a general practitioner and would best be provided by a “multi-disciplinary” model.

This model would use the expertise of a range of health professionals, improve access to services, better use scarce GP time, offer value for money and ultimately deliver improved health outcomes for all of us.

The current system of primary health funding in Australia creates serious barriers to this happening.

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As regulated health professionals, registered nurses do not need to be “supervised”. Like doctors, we work within laws that hold us accountable for our actions and protect the public. We do not advocate any health professional acting outside their expertise or qualifications.

Doctors are vitally important to our health care system and we don't want to replace them, but they are not the only ones who can deliver safe and effective care. Nurses recognise that the best way to deliver health care is in a team where the right health professional delivers the most appropriate care.

Just as a GP might refer on to a specialist when he or she needs to, so a nurse would refer a patient to a GP or other health professional. Advanced registered nurses and nurse practitioners are two levels that can provide expanded services through what we call “advanced practice”.

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First published in the Herald-Sun on June 17, 2008.



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About the Author

Ged Kearney is the Federal Secretary for the Australian Nurses Federation. Ged began her nursing career in the private health sector in Melbourne in the 1980s. After completing her education, she moved to the public sector where she stayed for 15 years. She completed a Bachelor of Education and moved into the specialty area of Clinical Education at Austin Health. Support for newly graduated nurses, access to and development of re-entry and refresher courses for nurses to re-enter the workforce and professional development for nurses became her particular interest. Her education career culminated in her role as Manager of Clinical Education for Austin Health. Ged was during this time a very active member of the Australian Nursing Federation and in 1997 she became president of the Victorian Branch. Following a period as ANF Federal President she was elected as Assistant Federal Secretary, and in April this year she took up her current position as Federal Secretary. Ged continues to represent nurses on many and varied national and international forums which include being a director for HESTA Superannuation Industry Fund.

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All articles by Ged Kearney

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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