The Federal government of Australia plans to introduce an incentives scheme to ease the nursing shortage and also plans to broaden Medicare to allow nurses to take on certain work done by GPs.
Doctors, nurses and the Opposition welcomed the measures. The government is expanding a program aimed at addressing the nursing shortage, adding hundreds more general practices to the incentives scheme.
Federal Health Minister Tony Abbott said the move would help overworked GPs, allowing them to see more patients on a daily basis. Extra 650 general practices in urban areas will be eligible for government subsidies to employ nurses. The government offers a practice nurse incentive payment of about $8,000 per full time GP. Each general practice currently receiving the subsidy - more than 1,700 so far - gets an average incentive payment of $26,000 a year.
The government also is planning on broadening the range of services that general practice nurses can provide under Medicare by expanding their scheme beyond immunisation and wound management. Mr Abbott said, that at the moment under Medicare, the nurses can only immunise and treat wounds if they are going to claim a rebate for their services unaided by a doctor, What he wanted he said was a greater range of services which a practising nurse could claim. But the minister had ruled out expanding the scheme to cover more highly skilled nurse practitioners who, unlike practice nurses, can work independently of doctors.
Although many nurses work in hospitals, nurse practitioners are very active in rural areas, where they travel extensively and perform tasks such as health examinations and sexual health screenings. Mr.Abbot also added that, though the nurses are particularly interested in the nurse practitioners recognised under Medicare, they were not planning on doing that. They are only planning on giving practice nurses more scope under Medicare
Welcoming the move Choong-Siew Yong the Vice President of the Australian Medical Association (AMA) also agreed with Mr Abbott's decision not to extend the rebate to nurse practitioners. The association felt that rebate should only extend to work being done by practice nurses. Stating that though they had no problems with nurse practitioners, they should not be seen as a substitute for doctors. The nurses union said expanding the rebatable items was a positive and overdue move.
Australian Nursing Federation federal secretary Jill Illiffe said, that it is a more effective use of nurses' time and skills, more effective use of doctors' time and skills, and much more convenient for the patients. She also welcomed the expansion of the incentives scheme, saying it would raise the profile of nurses in general practice.