Course fees make union seethe

The cost of mandatory re-training courses for nurses who have been out of practice for five years or more is holding back many from rejoining the industry, when their skills are needed, according to their union.

Above: ANF federal secretary, Lee Thomas.

By Stephen Easton

Regulations governing health professions are stunting Australia’s nursing workforce at a time when it needs to grow, according to Australia’s largest nursing union.

The Australian Nursing Federation (ANF) issued a statement shortly before Christmas, which said nurses who want to rejoin the workforce could be “forced to pay fees of up to $10,000” for refresher courses, while the country faced a “critical shortage of nursing professionals”.

The ANF and its state branches expressed concern that the re-entry programs would deter nurses and midwives from wanting to rejoin the workforce when their skills were acutely needed.

ANF federal secretary, Lee Thomas, blamed the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia for the move that she said “would see nurses and midwives who have been out of the profession for five to 10 years undertaking a three-month re-entry competency course, with fees of up to $10,000 being charged”.

“While re-entry courses are important this one size fits all solution does not consider individuals needs,” she added.

But according to the Nursing and Midwifery Board, new laws passed by all state and territory governments on 1 July 2010 had mandated standards that every health practitioner must meet.

The harmonised national standards, agreed upon by all state and territory health ministers, relate to criminal history checks, professional indemnity insurance, continuing professional development, English language skills and recency of practice.

“The whole scheme is about protecting the public … to provide for robust public protection, and the Board believes the standards are necessary for registered practitioners to provide safe care to Australians,” a spokesperson for the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia told AAA.

“[…] The Board does not run the re-entry courses for nurses and midwives and does not set the fees for them. This is done by education providers and costs vary depending on whether there is any government subsidy.

“If a nurse has been out of the workforce and wants to return to practice, they need to apply to the Board for advice about what kind of program will bring their skills up to date. The Board gives advice tailored to the individual. In many cases, a nurse who does retraining gets ‘recognition of prior learning’ so they don’t have to start their course from scratch.

“[…] They make the individual judgements about each nurse. The issue, I believe, is that in New South Wales there was no [previous] requirement that people had recency of practice before July last year; they could still be renewed even if they hadn’t worked for 20 years. The board felt that was not safe, and they were also required by the legislation to set those standards.”

“There is currently an oversupply of graduate nurses, resulting in more nurses than jobs,” the spokesperson added, in response to the union’s argument that Australia faced a “critical shortage” of nurses. 

“We believe it’s ludicrous that experienced nursing and midwifery professionals are now being forced to pay significant amounts of money to be re-registered,” the ANF’s Lee Thomas said.

“The industry should be welcoming back nurses and midwives with open arms, instead, they’re making it financially unattractive, in some cases impossible, for them to get back to work.” 

According to the ANF, research shows 15 per cent of nurses are retiring every five years with an exodus of 90,000 nurses expected to retire up by the year 2026. 

”Quite simply, the number of new nursing graduates cannot keep pace with the exodus of nurses, resulting in a critical shortage of nursing and midwifery professionals,” Ms Thomas added. 

“We need solutions, such as incentives and benefits, so we can retain nurses and midwives. We don’t need barriers like these refresher course fees, hindering attempts by experienced nursing professionals wanting to rejoin the workforce. 

“The aged care sector alone urgently needs 20,000 extra nurses to meet the challenges of Australia’s ageing population. 

“A nationwide survey carried out by Monash University showed that 15 per cent of nurses were likely to leave the industry over the next year, so the problem is only going to get worse.” 

Ms Thomas said the growing shortage of nurses would be among the issues the ANF would discuss when it meets with the new federal Health Minister, Tanya Plibersek. 

Tags: anf, nurse, regulation, union,

4 thoughts on “Course fees make union seethe

  1. I have been out for about five years. I worked briefly 3 years ago but not enough hours to satisfy the new recency of practice. I am now applying to do the re entry course and wondering how as a single parent with two small children I’ll manage it. I will try my best though because I want to be a nurse. I love my job. I have no understanding of what my future holds if I cannot recover my job. I feel parenthood and my new maturity will make me an even better nurse. I have devoted myself to my children and genuinely struggled with shifts on my own. If I lose my profession I will be devastated. We all need refreshers and nurses don’t argue with that, however the new rules applied retrospectively have seen lots of experienced nurses lose their jobs, (particularly care givers, ironically) overnight, with little or no concern for their plight. Friends in nursing didn’t even know about the change . . .I can see I am not the only one. When I made my decision to commit to my family, the rules were not in place. I expected to take a refresher course on returning but 10,000? I am now waiting for something to happen which could take months . . .I just want to go back to work and support my family. Finally my littlest will start school next month and now I find I cannot return. I feel the atmosphere is a punitive one, and I feel shamed . .I have simply been raising children!! I hope I can sort this out and be back on the wards by Christmas 2012. A year of no wages not to mention the 10,000 cost of a course and childcare bills . ..and I’ll try and do it. because that’s what IAM a Nurse, started in the field 20 years ago.

  2. I managed to do a RN refresher course, not ahpra approved. Got a job on casual pool, then could not got any further shifts, due to conditions imposed after my reg was renewed 8 mths after I applied for renewal due to recency of practice guideline. Had been off work for health reasons imposed by former NSWNMWB. Which comes first chicken or egg situation?? Now I will be lucky to gain employment at all.

  3. I am in a similar situations and would like to keep in contact with others with the problem. I am looking at legal actions and more media coverage.
    Feel free to email me

  4. The AHPRA have kindly offered me an extension to complete an approved refresher course by JAN 2014 for RN even though i am expected to give birth late November 2013. I have been raising a young family just like Kate (above). How come you can be employed and have maternity leave but you can’t have time off to be pregnant and have babies. I moved from NSW to the ACT 2006 and when i decided to have time off to have children i was unaware of recency of practise regulations.

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