|Issue No 115||12 October 2001|
Nurses Savage Howard's Neglect Of Workforce
The Howard Government is under pressure to outline thier vision for nurses in the wake of ALP's national plan unveiled this week.
The federal ALP's announcement that it will implement a national nursing policy if elected on November 10 is a policy breakthrough that will leave the Howard Government stranded with nurses if it does not offer similar action.
The Australian Nursing Federation was responding to the release of the ALP's nursing policy by Shadow Health spokesperson, Jenny Macklin, at the ANF's biennial national conference in Adelaide this week.
A Howard Government representative, Senator Jeannie Ferris (for Education Minister Rod Kemp), also addressed the conference, but did not announce any new nursing or health policies because nurses were already "living" the Government's policies.
ANF federal secretary, Jill Iliffe, said the ALP has recognised that we face a national nursing crisis, which is impacting on the quality and availability of public hospital and aged care services.
"This stands in stark contrast to the Howard Government, which has refused to recognise it has a key role to play in building up the nursing workforce and getting more nurses into vital public hospital services and aged care facilities. In fact, conference delegates were outraged by the Howard Government's failure to address the nursing crisis.
"The contrast between the ALP and the Howard Government approach was on full display today. A continuation of the Howard Government's long term neglect of nursing will have devastating consequences for Australia's public hospital and aged care systems. Hospital and aged care services are already being reduced or compromised because of the serious nursing shortage confronting Australia.
"The number of students completing undergraduate nursing courses has been dropping. The latest published figures - 6397 in 1993 to 4661 in 1998 - indicate how serious the drop has been. And 30 per cent of the current nursing workforce is due to retire in the next ten years. So we have a large section of the workforce due to leave, with reduced numbers stepping in to take their place.
"Between 1986 and 1996 the number of nurses under 25 years of age decreased from 20.9 per cent to 5.9 per cent. Over the same ten years the number of nurses over 45 years increased from 18.9 per cent to 31 per cent. On top of all this you have thousands of nurses leaving part way through their careers because of the poor pay and conditions and the cost of ongoing education.
"If these trends are not reversed, and quickly, then our health and aged care systems will be in even more serious trouble in the years ahead. We will have a major catastrophe on our hands. The only way to reverse the trends is by implementing a national strategy and that is what the ALP is proposing. This is a welcome development and the specific nursing initiatives outlined by Ms Macklin today will greatly assist that strategy.
"The appointment of a national Chief Nursing Officer within the federal Health Department to oversee the development of such a strategy is an excellent idea and one the ANF has been pushing for many years.
"The massive wage differential between the aged care and acute hospital sectors is now more than $80.00 per week in most States and Territories. Labor's commitment to fix the problem is excellent news for the aged care industry and aged care nurses. Again this is something the ANF has been working on for many years, but the Howard Government has turned a deaf ear.
"The cost of nurse education is a major contributor to the current nurse shortage and the ALP's announcements on postgraduate HECS payments are a good start to an overhaul of the whole system," Ms Iliffe said.
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Last Modified: 15 Nov 2005