Rural maternity ward not possible without Federal Government-funded program

Imagine not having a maternity service available in your local area, forcing you to travel to the next town to receive adequate maternity care?

This was a very real possibility for Moruya Hospital had they not engaged the Rural Locum Assistance Program (Rural LAP). Moruya Hospital is part of the Eurobodalla Health Service located on the South Coast of New South Wales. Lynette Munro, Acting Unit Manager for the Maternity Ward at Moruya Hospital, said "our maternity unit has been very short-staffed with several midwives going on long term sick leave and others from our team having already booked leave in advance. So without the Rural LAP coming and saving the day the maternity unit would not have been able to run safely".

Rural and remote health services often face difficulty in backfilling permanent staff that go on leave. It puts a strain on healthcare providers both financially and physically as they are either forced to pay additional fees and charges for agency locums or their remaining staff have to work the extra hours to cover these shifts.

Leanne Ovington, the Director of Nursing for the Eurobodalla Health Service which encompasses Batemans Bay and Moruya Hospitals, says the greatest benefit of the Australian Government-funded program is that it relieves the financial burden of hiring agency locums to cover leave.

“It is more economically viable. We don’t pay all of the extra fees that agencies charge. We pay a Rural LAP nurse exactly the same as what we would pay one of our own staff. That creates a bit of equity in the workforce”.

The program has helped Moruya Hospital considerably reduce excess leave and use their casual pool of staff to cover unanticipated leave. This gives their permanent staff more freedom to go on mandatory training or annual leave without worrying that it will be cancelled.

Moruya Hospital has also been successful in facilitating multiple leave requests during the same roster period where previously this could not be guaranteed. “The program has allowed us to continue our normal hospital business but in a financially affordable way”. Ms Ovington concluded.

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.