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Introducing the new Federal Minister for Health and Aged Care, the Hon Mark Butler MP

11 Aug 2022

The Hon Mark Butler MP was sworn in as the Federal Minister for Health and Aged Care on 1 June 2022. CRANAplus catches up with the Minister to discuss nursing workforce sustainability, safety and security, and empowering nurses to have even more of an impact.

CRANAplus: What do you iden­ti­fy as the most sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenges fac­ing the rur­al and remote area nurs­ing work­force? How will the Gov­ern­ment work with peak indus­try organ­i­sa­tions to address these challenges?

The Hon Mark But­ler MP: Nurs­es are the lifeblood of our health sys­tem and have endured two years of the most dif­fi­cult con­di­tions as they have con­tin­ued to care for patients dur­ing the pandemic.

I met with many of these nurs­es over the last few years, includ­ing in region­al and remote areas. Two of the nurs­es I met were Saman­tha and Georgie, work­ing on the NSW South Coast. They were clear about their chal­lenges, work­ing through fires, floods and the pan­dem­ic, and were fight­ing for bet­ter health care ser­vices for their community.

The Mor­ri­son Gov­ern­ment did not invest in our health work­force, par­tic­u­lar­ly nurs­es. The Albanese Labor Gov­ern­ment will work with key stake­hold­ers includ­ing nurs­ing peaks, employ­ers and state and ter­ri­to­ry gov­ern­ments to attract, sup­port and retain nurs­es, par­tic­u­lar­ly in rur­al and remote areas.

As part of that work we are devel­op­ing a Nation­al Nurs­ing Work­force Strat­e­gy (the Strat­e­gy) and imple­ment­ing the Nation­al Abo­rig­i­nal and Tor­res Strait Islander Health Work­force Strate­gic Frame­work and Imple­men­ta­tion Plan 2021 – 2031. The devel­op­ment of the Strat­e­gy will include exten­sive con­sul­ta­tion with stake­hold­ers and be guid­ed by the Nurs­ing and Mid­wifery Strate­gic Ref­er­ence Group, which includes CRANAplus, and oth­er key rur­al and remote stakeholders.

CRANAplus: A sus­tain­able, ade­quate­ly staffed remote area nurs­ing work- force would sup­port con­ti­nu­ity of care and improved health out­comes. But it can be chal­leng­ing for nurs­es to find a defined path­way from metro to rur­al to remote. Do you recog­nise a need for a sus­tain­able remote area nurse path­way and if so, how will the Gov­ern­ment sup­port this?

The Hon Mark But­ler MP: Nurs­es should be able to more eas­i­ly move from met­ro­pol­i­tan roles into rur­al and remote roles. 

This issue will be addressed as part of the Nation­al Nurs­ing Work­force Strat­e­gy – the craft­ing of which, and con­sul­ta­tion, is cur­rent­ly underway.

Work is also under­way on the devel­op­ment of a Nurse Prac­ti­tion­er 10 Year Plan. The Plan will set out actions to address chal­lenges and bar­ri­ers fac­ing nurse prac­ti­tion­ers which will pro­mote work­force sus­tain­abil­i­ty in pri­ma­ry health care. 

Rur­al and remote nurse prac­ti­tion­ers are a key part of that workforce. 

The Gov­ern­ment has com­mis­sioned a nurs­ing work­force Sup­ply and Demand study to pro­vide evi­dence to assist in mak­ing appro­pri­ate pol­i­cy and fund­ing deci­sions. This is expect­ed to be pub­lished in the sec­ond half of this year.

Deputy Prime Min­is­ter Richard Mar­les and the Hon Mark But­ler MP meet­ing with NSW South Coast nurs­es Saman­tha and Georgie.

CRANAplus: Remote health pro­fes­sion­als often have sig­nif­i­cant con­cerns for their safe­ty and secu­ri­ty. Iden­ti­fied safe­ty risks includ­ing phys­i­cal assault, ver­bal abuse, bul­ly­ing and harass­ment. Staff accom­mo­da­tion, clin­ic facil­i­ties, and com­mu­ni­ca­tion sys­tems are often felt to be inad­e­quate. There’s a call for wide­spread improve­ments. How can this be achieved?

The Hon Mark But­ler MP: The Albanese Gov­ern­ment recog­nis­es nurs­es and mid­wives are report­ing increased fatigue and burnout. 

That’s why dur­ing the recent elec­tion cam­paign, I announced the Nation­al Nurse and Mid­wife Health Ser­vice would be rolled out across Australia. 

The ser­vice will pro­vide free, con­fi­den­tial and inde­pen­dent advice, sup­port, infor­ma­tion, treat­ment and spe­cial­ist refer­rals for nurs­es, mid­wives and stu­dents. The local ser­vices will be mod­elled on the Nurs­ing and Mid­wifery Health Pro­gram Vic­to­ria (NMH­PV) and is expect­ed to be deliv­ered in con­junc­tion with oth­er pro­grams such as the CRANAplus Bush Sup­port Line.

The safe­ty and secu­ri­ty of the nurs­ing work­force, includ­ing in rur­al and remote areas, is a major con­cern. The Albanese Gov­ern­ment is work­ing with stake­hold­ers includ­ing state and ter­ri­to­ry gov­ern­ments to sup­port and pro­mote safe work­ing envi­ron­ments across the health sector.

CRANAplus: Peo­ple liv­ing in remote Aus­tralia expe­ri­ence poor­er health out­comes and high­er rates of pre­ventable dis­ease than their urban coun­ter­parts. What role can nurs­es play in address­ing this inequal­i­ty? Do you see oppor­tu­ni­ties for them to be empow­ered to have even more of an impact?

The Hon Mark But­ler MP: I recog­nise nurs­es are the front­line of our health ser­vices and play a crit­i­cal role in improv­ing the health and well­be­ing of their patients through the care, edu­ca­tion and aware­ness they pro­vide for patients. This is par­tic­u­lar­ly true for those in rur­al and remote areas.

Nurs­es and nurse prac­ti­tion­ers are sup­port­ed with a range of tai­lored pro­grams to empow­er the nurs­ing work­force through team-based mod­els of care. These ini­tia­tives build nurse capa­bil­i­ty and capac­i­ty to deliv­er pre­ven­ta­tive care so Aus­tralians can keep healthy and well. These include the:

1. Nurs­ing in Pri­ma­ry Health Care Pro­gram
2. Train­ing and Pro­fes­sion­al Sup­port for the Remote Health Work­force Pro­gram
3. Work­force Incen­tive Pro­gram (WIP) –Prac­tice Stream.

The Gov­ern­ment also funds the Con­gress of Abo­rig­i­nal and Tor­res Strait Islander Nurs­es and Mid­wives (CATSI­NaM) to sup­port and devel­op the grow­ing First Nations nurs­ing and mid­wifery work­force to bet­ter meet the needs of First Nations people.