Last time I was in hospital, I was cared for round the clock by highly skilled health professionals – nurses. But in all the debate about health reform, one could be forgiven for thinking that doctors are the only people who provide front-line health care.

When the premiers and the Prime Minister figure out how they want to fund the local hospital networks, will they stop to think about how they are going to staff these hospitals?

On its own, $632 million for doctor training won’t give Kevin Rudd the workforce he needs to meet his emergency department waiting time guarantee. Why? Because the front-line staff in an emergency department are nurses.

Kevin Rudd’s funding might buy him a few more aged-care facilities, but how is he going to make sure your granny has someone to check that she takes the right pills? Nurses working in aged care do this but the government isn’t handing out funding for training aged-care nurses.

As Greg Barns pointed out in ‘Health reform debate ignores non-vote winning mental health issues’, mental health isn’t a s-xy vote-winner. Mental health nurses running community mental health services are still waiting to find out how the federal Government’s “takeover” of community health will affect their services. Needless to say, they aren’t expecting much in all this to support their profession.

We nurses don’t mind admitting that we are getting old. But we do get a tad anxious about who will look after us in the future. In 2007 the average age of employed nurses was 43.7 years and a third of all nurses are over 50 (AIHW, 2007).

Universities turn potential nurses away every year due to lack of places and funding. But the Government hasn’t announced millions of dollars for a nursing workforce strategy as part of health reform.

It’s about time the Government stopped throwing bribes at the medical profession and started to seriously invest in capacity-building for the nursing profession. Because nurses are the people who will be critical to achieving health reform on the ground.

Peter Fray

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