Opinion: Nurses are not just needed now, they are essential to post-pandemic recovery

The following opinion piece by Dr Stacy Blythe and Distinguished Professor Lynn Kemp, both from the School of Nursing and Midwifery, was first published with full links on Open Forum (opens in a new window).

Nurses have proven undeniably important during the COIVD-19 pandemic and they will also play a key role in the country’s post-pandemic recovery.

COVID-19 has brought to light the importance of acute care and clinical nurses who provide patient education, screen for infection, and care for the sick.

However, at the same time, nurses are also playing a key role in supporting and protecting vulnerable families who experience domestic violence, child abuse/neglect and mental health issues, all of which are currently increasing due to COVID-19 .

While individual physical recovery from the corona virus itself may only take weeks, there are likely to be long-term social and mental health issues that require sustained nursing support.

Prior to COVID-19 Australia was experiencing a shortage of nurses that was predicted to increase. Now, due to COVID-19 and pressure on the health care system, the Australian government is funding scholarships to pull nurses out of retirement and fast-tracking new graduate registrations in order to have sufficient frontline nursing services.

Similar to the stimulus packages aimed at preserving the nation’s economy, these are reactive, short-term strategies to support the healthcare system during the COVID-19 crisis. While there has been discussion regarding post-pandemic economic planning, to date there has been little discussion in relation to post-pandemic healthcare.

Recovery from domestic violence, child abuse/neglect, and mental health issues can take a substantial amount of time and requires specialist support. Child and family health nurses are well placed to provide such services within facilities and within families’ homes.

There is substantial evidence that long-term nurse home visiting programs, where a nurse engages with families for two years or more, are effective strategies for supporting such vulnerable families and ensuring they are able to access appropriate services.

Multiple research studies in Australia have shown that families who receive such long-term nursing programs have improved maternal health and parenting confidence, and provide a more positive home environment for their children. Providing care in the home reduces the strain on health care facilities and enables sustained engagement with health care services.

Planning of these specialist nursing services requires consideration now in order to ensure their increased availability post-pandemic to meet the heightened levels of need in our communities.

In addition to supporting individuals and families who may be struggling with domestic violence or mental health issues, long-term nurse home visiting programs empower parents to care for their children despite the challenges they may face.

This will prove a challenge as the current child and family nursing workforce (pre-COVID-19) has 60% capacity to provide what is needed for the Australian population of families with children aged under two years of age, based on current Australian workforce figures and UK modelling of the nursing time needed as such workforce modelling is not undertaken in Australia

Post COVID-19, with the estimated rise in the number of families needing support, a likely 70% increase in this workforce will be needed.

It will be critical to invest in this nursing workforce and these programs to support struggling families to rebuild their resilience and connection with their community and supports, and achieve the best health and development outcomes for themselves and their children, now and post COVID-19.

Without such investment, the Australian community’s recovery will be hampered, and our most vulnerable families and children will bear the legacy for years to come.


6 April 2020

Media Unit