Parkinson’s nurses needed in rural areas to fill gaps left by neurologists

Movement disorders

By Michael Woodhead

25 Feb 2019

Federal government funding of $6.8 million to fund 15 Parkinson’s nurses should be targeted at regional areas where there are few or no neurologists, Parliament has been told.

With patients facing long waits to see a neurologist in parts of rural Australia, the recently announced pilot scheme for Parkinson’s nurses should give priority to areas of greatest need, according to NSW Nationals Senator John Williams.

Speaking at a Senate Estimates committee for Community Affairs, Senator Williams said he was concerned that when Primary Health Networks are invited to make submissions of interest for the nurse funding before July 2019, the process will favour urban areas over regional Australia.

“Take where I live, in northern New South Wales. If I want to see a neurologist in fear I have a neurological disease—MS, Parkinson’s or whatever—I could wait 12 months to get into one at Tamworth. I hope you take into consideration where it’s easy to access neurologists or easier in urban areas,” he told health department officials who will assess the applications.

They said the health department would allocate the nurses in both urban and regional areas based on innovation in use of workforce skills and models.

“What we normally do with a trial like this is have a mix. We would have some being rolled out specifically in remote and regional areas so that we can see how PHNs are commissioning nurses do things there and some in the cities so we can compare measures,” said Ms Caroline Edwards, Deputy Secretary, Health Systems Policy and Primary Care Group.

“But we’re absolutely acutely aware of the difficulties of access [to neurologists] in remote and regional areas. We take it into account,” she added.

“Ms Edwards said the funding may not be for ‘new’ nurse positions but could be used to upskill and expand existing nursing services for patients with Parkinson’s disease and other neurological conditions.

“We want to look at building the workforce and building the skills. In some places, you could imagine, they might be saying, how do we impart this knowledge to a broader range of nurses? Say in a regional area, where you have a visiting district nurse, actually teaching him or her how to deal with these patients as an additional. We’re open to a range of possible service models.

The Parkinson’s nurse workforce trial will also be looking at whether this model can prevent hospitalisations, she added.

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