Infighting leaves nurses in limbo
Author: Louise Hall, Health Reporter,
Date: 23/01/2009Words: 748Source: SMH
Publication: Sydney Morning HeraldSection: News and FeaturesPage: 3
INFIGHTING within the State Government has put thousands of nursing students in limbo as the departments of health and education argue over who should pay for nursing tuition.
NSW Health has decided to cut the popular Enrolled Nurse Education Program, which paid student nurses a salary and contracted TAFE NSW to provide the theory for the 12-month course.
But after the April 2009 intake, Health will no longer pay TAFE institutes to run classes for the 1200 trainees who go through the program each year.
The Department of Education and Training (DEET) has refused to provide training for free and has withdrawn all enrolled nursing certificate and diploma courses at TAFE NSW institutes.
While bureaucrats scramble, aspiring nurses are being told that public hospitals are no longer recruiting trainee enrolled nurses and they can expect to pay $15,000 in fees and perform 700 hours of unpaid clinical placements before they are qualified to work (see breakout).
The NSW Nurses' Association says the decision will exacerbate the severe nursing shortage, particularly for mature-age students, those with families and those who cannot afford to go to university.
The acting general secretary of the union, Judith Kiedja, said trainee enrolled nurses (TENs) were paid a salary of $34,197 and many used the qualification to put themselves through uni.
She said there is widespread concern among nurses that shifts filled by TENs will be left vacant, or filled by lesser-qualified assistants-in-nursing. "If the department listened to the Garling report, they would replace TENs with graduate registered nurses, which would give wards a better skill mix, but that's a more expensive option so the department won't go for that," she said.
NSW already faces a projected shortage of 12,000 nurses by 2010 as baby boomers, which make up about 20 per cent of the workforce, retire en masse.
The Opposition spokeswoman for health, Jillian Skinner, said the decision was baffling because the mini-budget had ordered hospitals to substitute university-trained registered nurses with enrolled and trainee nurses to save $32 million within four years.
"It makes no sense to cut nurse training and throw up barriers for prospective nursing students at a time when recruiting more nurses should be a priority," Mrs Skinner said.
A spokesman for the Health Minister, John Della Bosca, said axing the Enrolled Nurse Education Program would bring NSW into line with all other states and territories, who do not pay their enrolled nurses during training.
He said it was not ideal to shift the cost burden onto individual students but who should pay the students' fees was "the subject of lots of discussions between NSW Health and the education department".
A spokesman for DEET was unable to say if it would offer any enrolled nursing courses after April. He was also unable to say if TAFE nursing teachers would lose their jobs. "It's all under discussion with NSW Health."
Private colleges, including the College of Nursing in Burwood, are rushing to gain accreditation from the NSW Nurses and Midwives Board to fill the gap left by the confusion. Similar courses can cost up to $15,000 in other states.
Maryanne Crakers, from the National Enrolled Nurse Association, said most state and territory governments subsidised placements in the TAFE and private sector so "students usually only have to find $800 or $900".
"I can only assume the rationale in NSW is to save money," she said.
Willing, able and left waiting
NICOLE HICKMAN has dreamed of becoming a nurse since she broke her ankle in three places and spent weeks in hospital a few years ago.
Proposed changes to the way enrolled nurses are trained in NSW have left her in limbo. "I'm banging my head against the wall, I can't get a straight answer," she said yesterday.
The 21-year-old from Erina completed two introductory nursing assistant courses at TAFE NSW last year to give herself the best chance at securing a job as a trainee enrolled nurse in a public hospital this year.
But unlike applicants for more than 20 years before her, she was told not only will she not receive a wage, but no institute will offer the Certificate IV in Nursing (Enrolled Nurse) course after April.
"All I want is to become a nurse and care for people. Why are they making it so hard for young people these days?"
Career advisers at TAFE and NSW Health have told Ms Hickman enrolled nursing will be run through the private sector and she can expect about $10,000 in upfront fees.
She said she has no hope of finding that kind of money.