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Unique program caring for nurses at risk

By Karen Keast | Last Updated: 19-11-2013

Australian Nursing Federation’s Victorian branch's Paul Gilbert

The future of Victoria’s unique Nursing and Midwifery Health Program is under threat.

The Australian Nursing Federation’s Victorian branch fears the confidential program, which helps nurses and midwives battling addiction or mental health issues, could fold with the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia announcing it will not fund the program from 2014.

ANF Vic branch acting secretary Paul Gilbert said the announcement is “disappointing”.

“We will continue to be advocating and lobbying for the Victorian program,” he said.

“We don’t believe there’s any alternative program available and that’s why it’s been created.”

Mr Gilbert said the program, launched in 2006, is assisting 700 nurses and midwives, with

about 30 per cent of those requiring ongoing care.

He said about 70 per cent of presentations to the program are for mental health issues while about 30 per cent are for addiction, mainly to prescribed medication.

“It’s about looking after nurses and midwives who have mental health or addiction problems that affect their practice,” he said.

“They (addiction problems) often arise because they have been prescribed for nurses with back injuries in particular and become addicted to them and they have access to them at work.

“The program is used quite a bit by the Nursing and Midwifery Board as a very affective program for referring people who come to the attention of the board.

“The majority of people come by way of self-referral. We had the experience of nurses who had particularly a drug addiction problem and were unable or unwilling to seek treatment because the only treatment provided was their own employer, particularly outside of Melbourne and occasionally within Melbourne.

“Your capacity to have any confidential support or treatment was compounded….and people weren’t seeking treatment.”

The Nurses Board of Victoria previously funded the program until the move to national registration, when the funding was guaranteed to continue until June 2013.

The Nursing and Midwifery Board has now revealed it has decided against providing ongoing funding for the program or supporting the proposed national expansion of the program.

The board stated it will provide a year’s additional funding to June 2014 to enable the program to explore alternative funding sources and establish transitional arrangements.

“The national board’s role and functions are defined under the National Law,” the board said in a statement.

“In this context, having reviewed both the current NMHPV and other jurisdictional services available for the management of nurses and midwives with a health impairment, the national board has decided not to fund a health program nationally or to support the ongoing funding of the NMHPV.

“An independent report guided the national board’s decision.

“In summary, the report identified that a range of services providing support to nurses and midwives with health impairment are already accessible nationally, in both public and private health sectors.

“The national board is also aware of stakeholder concerns that a national rollout of a health program for nurses and midwives may have implications for increases in registration fees that nurses and midwives pay annually.”

The board also ruled out increasing fees to support the program’s funding to 2014.

More than 5200 people have signed the union’s online petition calling for the board to save the program, at a time when nursing and midwifery registration fees have increased $113 or 340 per cent in less than nine years.

Mr Gilbert said the union will explore other funding avenues, including new partners, for the program and will lobby Victorian Health Minister David Davis to take the issue to a national meeting of health ministers this month.

He also called on the board to release the independent report into the program, which is based at Melbourne’s St Vincent Hospital and also operates out of Ballarat, Shepparton, Traralgon and Bendigo.

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