Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care doorstop – 20 March 2024

Read the transcript from Assistant Minister Kearney's doorstop which covered nurse practitioners, endorsed midwives and the Health Legislation Amendment (Removal of Requirement for a Collaborative Arrangement) Bill.

The Hon Ged Kearney MP
Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care

Media event date:
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General public

GED KEARNEY, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGED CARE: Good morning everybody, it’s a pleasure to be here. I’m Ged Kearney, I’m the Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care. I’m joined by some of my wonderful nursing colleagues – we have Karen Booth, Chair of the Australian Primary Health Care Nurses Association; we have Annie Butler, who is the Federal Secretary of the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation; we have Helen White, who is the CEO of the Australian College of Midwives; we have Alison Weatherstone, who is the Chief Midwife of the Australian College of Midwives; and we have Diane and Kerrie, some wonderful nurse practitioners here with us today.
Today, the Albanese Labor Government will introduce legislation that we believe is going to change everybody's lives. It is going to make the healthcare system better. It will improve access. It will mean that nurses and midwives will be able to work to their full scope of practice. Because to date, endorsed midwives and nurse practitioners in particular have had their practise stymied by regulation that meant that they had to get things ticked off, if you like, by other healthcare professionals, in particular doctors. This has meant that they haven't been able to provide the care where what we call a collaborative arrangement hasn't existed. It means they have had to- really not being able to provide another access point for the Australian community.
Removing this piece of legislation, known as the collaborative arrangements, means that nurse practitioners will no longer need to find another clinician to tick off their work, to look over their shoulder. This means that they will be able to practice autonomously. They will be able to prescribe medications that their patients can get on the PBS, which they couldn't do before without a doctor's approval. They will be able to get the MBS subsidy when they do provide care to patients. This is a wonderful innovation. This will mean that healthcare will be more accessible in places where we know it's very difficult to get access to healthcare. It will mean we will be able to introduce innovative models of care that will improve healthcare for all Australians. This is good for nurse practitioners, this is great for endorsed midwives, but most importantly, this is really wonderful for the community and for the healthcare system at large.
I might start with, Karen, if you'd like to say a few words.
KAREN BOOTH, CHAIR OF THE AUSTRALIAN PRMARY HEALTH CARE NURSES ASSOCIATION: I think the name of the scope of practice review, Unleashing the Potential, says it all. And I think that nurses are science based health professionals. They contribute equally to the community in care, and this will give the community, people in the community greater opportunities to access to care, for pathways to care. And I think that this certainly will increase the collaboration in the true sense between other health practitioners and these practitioners in a much more meaningful and engaging way. And we're very excited about this opportunity, particularly for primary healthcare.
KEARNEY: Thanks, Karen.
ANNIE BUTLER, FEDERAL SECRETARY, AUSTRALIAN NURSING AND MIDWIFERY FEDERATION: Annie Butler, Federal Secretary for the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Foundation. Today, we cannot commend the Albanese Government highly enough for taking this move to remove the need for collaborative arrangements, and in particular, the Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care, Ged Kearney. We have been waiting for more than a decade for this to happen. The so-called collaborative arrangements never encouraged collaboration. They never encouraged quality healthcare, delivered to people when they needed it and where they needed it. It encouraged duplication, frustration, fragmentation, and most of all, difficulty for our communities and increasing poor health because of lack of access to good quality healthcare. We are so delighted that this is actually going to happen. This practice which is just so out of step with international best practice, it's going to be removed. Opportunities now for nurse practitioners and endorsed midwives to really make the difference they can, to be allowed to not be held back, for the improving health of all our communities. Thanks so much to the Albanese Government.
ALISON WEATHERSTONE, CHIEF MIDWIFE, AUSTRALIAN COLLEGE OF MIDWIVES: Thank you. Alison Weatherstone, Chief Midwife for the Australian College of Midwives. What an incredible historic day for nurses and midwives. The removal of collaborative arrangements enables midwives, especially endorsed midwives, to work to their full scope of practise but more importantly, woman centred care. This means women across Australia, in particular in rural and remote areas of Australia, can access the models of care of their choice. By expanding access to MBS, PBS, it means there's less out of pocket, and women don't have to travel the long distances to access the care that they require from the midwifery workforce. Thank you.
KERRIE DUGGAN, NURSE: I would like to say thank you to the Albanese Government. This is- I've been a nurse practitioner for 12 years now, and have felt the limitations that this has caused for the people to access healthcare in especially country towns. And I think every Australian should be celebrating that every Australian can now get access to safe, quality healthcare by non-medical practitioners.
KEARNEY: So, thanks everybody. I think you can see that this is a great initiative, and I think it will definitely improve our healthcare system. I'm happy to take some questions.
JOURNALIST: Just in terms of numbers of nurse practitioners, obviously they're quite senior and it's going to be better in some- better off than prescribing it than an inexperienced doctor. But just especially in rural and remote areas. How many numbers of nurse practitioners are there in terms of how this will help?
KEARNEY: At the moment, there aren't that many. We have around 2000, 2500 nurse practitioners. But sadly we know about 500 of those nurse practitioners don't work as nurse practitioners because of the barriers to them using their full scope of practice. So we're hoping that those nurse practitioners who don't work to their full scope will come back. We have allocated nearly $50 million for scholarships for nurses and midwives to upgrade their qualifications to become nurse practitioners and endorsed midwives. So through that, we're hoping to expand the workforce. We have increased the MBS rebate that nurse practitioners can get when they actually provide services to patients. So this is part of a suite of measures that we are hoping will encourage nurses and midwives to become nurse practitioners and endorse midwives.
QUESTION: It does seem a bit like a no brainer. Why has it taken so long to get to this point?
KEARNEY: I hear you. well, it is over a decade now that this arrangement has been in place. You know, maybe there wasn't the will with the previous government, but the Labor Albanese Government has seen the potential for our nursing health workforce by removing these collaborative arrangements, and I think it's taken a Labor government to do it.
QUESTION: And just in terms of what- we've heard so much of GP shortages and doctor shortages, especially in rural and remote. Going forward, what kind of impact do you think that is?
KEARNEY: I think it’s going to have a huge impact. We hear right around the country, everywhere I go that people are waiting weeks to see their general practitioner, or if they’re lucky – there are some towns who don’t even have a general practitioner or a health service there. What we know about nurses and nurse practitioners and midwives and endorsed midwives, they are much more likely to stay in the community where they were raised, where they live. They are much more likely to go back into rural and remote areas. They are much more likely to be far more embedded in their community and stay there. So this is just, as you say, a no brainer to make sure that every community can get the healthcare they need.

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