Mateship and comradery are values fundamental to rural and remote communities with people picking up the slack for a mate who is sick or just needs an extra set of hands. It can be tough sometimes with a population of only one hundred. When there aren’t enough helping hands to go around, they press on because they value the community that they serve.
Nurses are these people. They are there for us when we need them the most. We rely on their presence, knowledge and kindness to get us through some of our darkest days. They are there to lend us a hand even when their owns hands are shaking.
Our nurses risk fatigue but where is their helping hand?
Ruth Bellingham is Nurse Manager at the Trangie Multi-Purpose Health Service (MPS) in New South Wales and she explains that distance and population size largely contribute to the risk of fatigue among rural and remote nurses. “The biggest challenge that we face is finding suitably qualified staff within a reasonable travelling distance”, Ms Bellingham said.
Trangie MPS provides acute and residential aged care in addition to outpatient and emergency services. A multi-disciplinary facility requires ongoing support 24 hours a day and nurses are feeling the pressure. Managers and staff alike are overwhelmed by staff shortages but are reluctant to take leave as they don’t want to “let the team down”.
“Staffing shortages on occasions such as illness or family issues can lead to a build-up of excess leave as staff try to pull together to cover shifts in true rural style. The pressure for managers to get staff to take leave but not always being able to get relief staff is constant.” Ms Bellingham said.
Healthcare facilities previously had no other option than to source agency nurses but that help came with a hefty price tag that they could barely afford. It wasn’t until the Western NSW Local Health District found a cost-effective solution in 2017 and requested support from the Rural Locum Assistance Program (Rural LAP) for the first time.
Rural LAP is an Australian Government-funded program that helps rural and remote communities by providing locum nurses at a cost of a casual staff member. Travel and accommodation are also covered by the program and all administrative burden is removed.
“The program is of great assistance to managers. Getting a helping hand from a Rural LAP nurse ensures our staff are able to take leave without feeling guilty”, Ms Bellingham said.
It can be difficult to find a suitably qualified locum nurse and managers must often rely on what is presented on their CV which can be risky. Rural LAP mitigates this risk through a robust credentialing process that ensures their locums are highly qualified and can hit the ground running the moment they arrive.
“I am incredibly pleased with the Rural LAP nurse’s ability and understanding, professionalism and interpersonal skills. Their ability to share knowledge and skills is invaluable.”
“I hope the program continues as it really is helping the staff at our MPS and the people of our town”, Ms Bellingham concluded.
About the program
Since inception, the Australian Government-funded program has helped thousands of health professionals take much needed leave to recuperate and come back to work revitalised and ready to provide quality health services to their communities. Rural LAP is a cost-effective service that provides health professionals to rural and remote practices for short periods of time with no extra costs to those practices.
Rural LAP is a component of the Australian Government’s rural workforce capacity agenda managed by healthcare solutions provider, Aspen Medical. The program aims to provide targeted rural and remote support services to general practitioners (obstetricians and anaesthetists), specialists (obstetricians and anaesthetists), nurses, midwives and allied health professionals in rural and remote Australia. All Aboriginal medical services throughout Australia are eligible to receive locum support.