This speech is in regards to a program known as the Aged Care and Disability Registered Nurse Refresher Re-entry Program. This program is designed to help nurses that have not been practicing for some time re enter the field 'refreshed'.
The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: I wish to commend to this chamber a program known as the Aged Care and Disability Registered Nurse Refresher Re-entry Program, which has been quietly running under the auspices of Julia Farr Services and the Australian Nursing Homes and Extended Care Association, or ANHECA. I also wish to state my interest in this program as someone who has just worked for ANHECA and was closely involved in this program, including seeking government funding support in recent years. The program is the result of a collaborative effort from both organisations and in response to the registered nurse shortage.
Registered nurses who have not practised for some years receive a combination of theoretical and practical learning.
For nurses who have practised within the last five years, the refresher course takes 12 weeks; for those who have not practised for longer than five years the re-entry course runs for 20 weeks. After an initial study block of four weeks, students perform clinical placement, either at Julia Farr or ANHECA nursing homes. This provides practical hands-on experience, which is essential for regaining skills and confidence. Negotiations with the Nurses Board and the Australian Nursing Federation have enabled students to be paid while undertaking their practical component, making the program highly attractive.
It is interesting to note that the predominant profile of many participants shows that they interrupted their nursing careers for family reasons. Being paid during the course relieves the burden of taking time off work to retrain for several months. A number of people were involved in establishing the program and in developing the curriculum, liaising to obtain the aforementioned approvals, matching placements and playing an ongoing role in student learning outcomes and evaluation. The program is time consuming for those involved, and I would like to recognise in particular the Staff Development Unit at Julia Farr, which holds the whole thing together and is supported by a number of directors of nursing from ANHECA.
The first pilot course ran in 2001 with four students. In 2002, two courses were run with a total of 17 students. It is important to note that the program was not receiving any external funding at this stage but was managed from the internal resources of Julia Farr and with the commitment of ANHECA members. In 2003 the state government provided a grant to Julia Farr of $50 000 from its $1 million funding line for refresher and re-entry programs, which I acknowledge has enabled the course to continue this year. That funding was provided on the basis that 16 students would participate which, at the time, was a big ask, but I am pleased to inform the chamber that, this coming Friday, 15 re-entry students will graduate from the program, one refresher student having already finished a couple of months ago, and will rejoin the nursing work force as fully fledged RNs.
One of the reasons why I am such an advocate of this program is out of admiration for the initiative of those people who recognised a need and did something about it. The group created an excellent program and ensured its continuation such that in July 2003 a total of 37 more registered nurses are practising because of it than were in the work force in 2001 when it started. But this program is under threat. While it is cheap to run compared to university based courses, it is an expensive exercise for Julia Farr, particularly as that organisation’s future funding has been less certain in recent years.
The nursing program contains risks and takes considerable resources, which is obviously something that the organisation must take into consideration. A second course will commence this year in July but without additional funding from either the state or the commonwealth government I understand that it is unlikely to continue past 2003. I therefore implore the government to provide the small assistance required that will enable this valuable refresher and re-entry program to continue, and commend it to the house.