The National Rural Health Alliance (the Alliance) welcomes the opportunity to make a submission to the consultation on the National Nursing Workforce Strategy.
The National Rural Health Alliance (the Alliance) is Australia's peak body for rural, regional and remote health (herein rural). The Alliance comprises 50 national organisationsi and our vision is for healthy and sustainable rural communities across Australia. The Alliance is focused on advancing reform to achieve equitable health outcomes for rural communities, that is the 7 million people (30 per cent) of Australia’s population residing outside our major cities. Our Members include healthcare and medical professionals, health services and support providers, health and medical educators and students, rural researchers and consumers, and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health sector. This group of entities are working towards equitable policy, funding and access to services, and a redistribution of the $6.55 billion per annum underspend (or $848 per person) in rural Australia.
In context, rural people bring in two thirds of Australia’s export income, 50 per cent of tourism income and places 90 per cent Australia’s food on our tables. Nurses are the largest group of healthcare professionals and have the capacity and expertise to improve health equity and access for all rural Australians.
Rural nurses provide emergency and primary health care services to rural communities across Australia.Rural nurses must be able to think critically and provide care for patients of all ages with complex health needs, often in challenging rural environments. In 2021 there were marginally more registered nurses and midwives per 100,00 population working in remote and very remote areas compared to major cities (1,161 remote areas, 1,170 very remote areas, 1,123 major cities). This statistic does not account for the distribution of the rural population across large areas, and the travel distance to access nursing services. While there are more nurses per 100,000 population in remote and very remote regions, there remains a significant challenge to supply the nursing workforce in rural areas adequately. Moreover, nurses are often the only health practitioner present in the community and work longer hours than their urban colleagues.