The WHO 2020 Year of the Nurse and Midwife, what does it mean for Australia?

The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared 2020 to be the year of the nurse and the midwife in honour of the 200th birth anniversary of Florence Nightingale – the English social reformer and the founder of modern nursing.

In Australia, there are more than 398,596 nurses and midwives (General and Non-practising), which is 56.7 percent of all registered health practitioners. No other health professional group offers the same capacity for health and aged care delivery as nurses and midwives, and investing here will be critical to the health of our nation.

Nurses and midwives play a vital role in providing Australia’s health and aged care services. These are the men and women who devote their lives to caring for our families; providing complex care and health advice; looking after older people and partnering with the community to support health and wellbeing across all of life’s stages. They are often the first point of care in our communities and help to deliver excellent care in our hospitals.

Over the last decade, there has been a reduction in hospital budgets, as well as tightening the funding for aged care with an increasing focus by executives to contain costs and deliver efficient and sustainable services. As the nursing workforce constitutes the largest group in the healthcare system and a significant component of delivering quality care in aged care, it is often one of the areas most affected by cost pressures.

Alongside fiscal constraints, there are other significant challenges facing our health and aged care systems (increasing demand, changing demographic profiles, regulatory changes, empowered patients who want personalised care, the rising costs of technology and drugs, the increasing complexity of cases that require treatment, delivering care to our rural populations, etc.), and these show no sign of abating. Working smarter, providing efficient services, and making the best use of the nursing and midwifery workforce is vital to delivering high-quality services.

The International Council of Nurses (ICN) and Nursing Now are urging world leaders to make massive investments in nursing and midwifery to “pave the way for a brighter future for health around the world”. By the year 2030, Australia’s health workforce is predicted to be short by 123,000 nurses. While technological advances will change how services are delivered and enhance our care, the essence of nursing and midwifery will not fundamentally change – caring for people – and we must resist the temptation to focus primarily on a medical device or monitor, rather than improving the delivery of patient care. For the nursing and midwifery profession, technology in the near future will likely replace some tasks, but there will still be a requirement for highly skilled and caring people to deliver services, and in many instances, lead the way in maximising health outcomes and improving patient experience.

An action nurse leaders and executives can take now is to provide an environment where nurses and midwives are supported in professional growth and development, staying abreast of new evidence-based practices so they can get to the top of their game regarding professional practice. The good news is everyday nurses and midwives find ways to improve patient care (the profession has a fine tradition of innovation). Through our Global Health practice across 46 countries, we have seen initiatives by nurses and midwives to optimise patient outcomes through delivering high-quality, safe and best practice services. These include:

• Redesigning services, and improving service productivity and patient flow which has led to improved patient satisfaction
• Managing increasing demands within finite resources
• The development of a sustainable, highly skilled workforce which includes creative solutions to attract, develop and retain the skills, capabilities and talent needed to deliver services
• Motivating and managing healthcare teams to deliver the best possible care
• Reducing the duplication of tasks/roles which allows nurses and midwives to practise at the upper limits of their licence (not to be confused with working at the top of your capacity)
• Championing the rights of patients, and pushing for the increasing use of Patient reported outcome measures (PROMs) and Patient-reported experience measures (PREMs) to drive changes to traditional models of care

As we take a moment to reflect on the almost incalculable contribution the nurses and midwives make, we should realise that investing in nurses and midwives will be critical to the health of our nation.

Thanks to KPMG Management Consulting Associate Director, Michelle Baulderstone and Nicki Doyle, Partner



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