The Australian College of Nursing is optimistic one of the unforeseen impacts of COVID-19 on sustainability of the nursing profession has been at least partially addressed by today’s introduction of additional telehealth item numbers for care provided by practice nurses.
“COVID-19 has changed the way health care is being delivered and increasingly we are utilising telehealth to ensure Australians can be cared for while in isolation,” Australian College of Nursing CEO, Adjunct Professor Kylie Ward FACN said.
“Therefore, we were very disappointed when practice nurses were originally left out when it came to MBS funding for telehealth services. Practice nurses provide a range of vital services within general practices, including the provision of care to patients with chronic health conditions.
“However, with a reduction in demand for face-to-face patient consultations and an inability to deliver funded telehealth services, we were hearing of general practices having to let their practice nurses go or dramatically cut their hours.
“This means experienced and skilled nurses are potentially being lost from this country’s primary health care system.
“Nurses around the country have not only helped on the frontlines as we overcome this medical crisis, but are necessary to Australians accessing primary care now and in the future.
“ACN is very concerned that once this pandemic is over, our primary care nursing workforce will be diminished and subsequently the quality of, and access to, care in the community setting will be reduced, putting our most vulnerable community members at further risk. We hope today’s announcement will result in practice nurses being retained by general practices and improved access to quality care for patients.
“This is an important first step forward as it enables practice nurses to provide telehealth and phone consultations and follow-ups, but ACN still believes more can be done to allow all primary health nurses to practice to their full scope and without limitations.
“ACN’s Nursing Workforce Solutions in response to COVID-19 Statement of Action was presented to the Federal Health Minister three weeks ago. It calls for Registered Nurses (RNs) to have access to Medicare Provider Numbers and MBS consultation items so they can provide additional care in the community, including after hours and conducting home visits.”
In addition to the four new practice nurse items, ACN welcomes the decision to remove the requirement for nurse practitioners, and other eligible health care providers, to bulk bill the new telehealth items.
“This change will help health care professionals make billing decisions that support their patients, while managing the financial viability of their practices,” Adjunct Professor Ward said.
“I commend the Commonwealth Government on giving practice nurses access to MBS item numbers for the benefit of Australians and welcome the opportunity to discuss more Nursing Workforce Solutions with the Government that will enhance access and equity of health service delivery.”