Mateship and comradery are values fundamental to rural and remote communities, with people picking up the slack for a mate who is sick or just needs an extra set of hands.
Nurses working in rural and remote communities are these people. They are there for us when we need them the most. We rely on their presence, knowledge and kindness to get us through some of our darkest days. Our nurses risk fatigue but where is their helping hand?
Ruth Bellingham is Nurse Manager at the Trangie Multi-Purpose Health Service (MPHS) in the Western NSW Local Health District, 460 kilometres north-west of Sydney. She explains that distance and population size largely contribute to the risk of fatigue among rural and remote nurses. “The biggest challenge that we face is finding suitably qualified staff within a reasonable travelling distance”, Ruth said.
Trangie MPHS provides acute and residential aged care in addition to outpatient and emergency services. A multi-disciplinary facility requires ongoing support 24 hours a day. Managers and staff may be overwhelmed by staff shortages and reluctant to take leave when it is due as they don’t want to ‘let the team down’.
“Staffing shortages on occasions such as illness or family issues can lead to a build-up of excess leave as staff try to pull together to cover shifts in true rural style. The pressure on managers to get staff to take leave but not always being able get relief staff is constant”, Ruth said.
In 2017 the Western NSW Local Health District requested support from the Rural Locum Assistance Program (Rural LAP) for the first time.
Rural LAP is an Australian Government-funded program that provides locum nurses to rural and remote communities at a cost of a casual staff member. Travel and accommodation are also covered by the Program and all administrative burden is removed.
“The Program is of great assistance to managers. Getting a helping hand from a Rural LAP nurse is invaluable in ensuring staff are able to take leave without feeling guilty”, Ruth said.
Rural LAP has a robust credentialing process that ensures their locums are highly qualified and can hit the ground running the moment they arrive.
“I hope the program continues as it really is helping the staff at our MPHS and the people of our town”, Ruth concluded.
Since inception, the Rural LAP has helped thousands of health professionals take much needed leave. Rural LAP provides a cost-effective service to practices by providing health professionals to rural and remote practices for short periods of time with no extra costs to those practices.
The Program is a component of the Australian Government’s rural workforce capacity agenda managed by healthcare solutions provider, Aspen Medical. It aims to provide targeted rural and remote support services to general practitioners, specialists (obstetricians and anaesthetists), nurses, midwives and allied health professionals in rural and remote Australia. All Aboriginal medical services throughout Australia are eligible to receive locum support.
For more information visit www.rurallap.com.au.