New look at role of nurses in frontline health

The expanding role of nurses in general practices across Australia will be examined in detail in a new study which will deliver alternatives for medical service delivery in Australia.

Dr Christine Phillips, senior lecturer at the ANU medical school, will lead a team that includes The Australian Divisions of General Practice and researchers from Australia and the UK in examining the role of practice nurses in Australian general practice.

The three-year study is one of four funded by the Australian Primary Health Care Research Institute at ANU (APHCRI) in a $2.6 million research program that will inform health policy.

“General practice in Australia is changing rapidly and nurses are playing an increasingly important role in the delivery of primary health care,” Dr Phillips said.

“The role of nurses in general practice varies, depending on the size, model and influences of each practice, but their importance is growing and models about how to best utilise their skills are needed.

“Most of the research in primary health care relates to doctors. We are trying to look at and expand the role of nurses in a way that’s responsive to the needs of Australian practices,” she said.

Nurses have had an expanded role in practices in the UK and New Zealand for some time and the researchers will examine the international experience and develop a best practice model for the Australian setting.

The project will be conducted in two phases. The first phase is to try and understand practice nursing in general practice and the second phase is to develop tools that GPs and practice nurses can use to develop the role of the practice nurse.

“With international shortages in medical staff, primary health care teams are becoming more important and this research will examine alternative ways to provide a broad range of health services in Australia.”

In addition to the ANU project, three other studies have been funded by APHCRI in its latest funding round. They are:

  • Dr Frances Boyle, University of Queensland, will study the links between self-help organisations and general practice to enhance chronic illness care.
  • Dr Lena Sanci, University of Melbourne, will trial new ways to encourage adolescent Australians to avoid or reduce risk behaviours like smoking, drinking, drug use and unprotected sex; and
  • Associate Professor Jane Gunn, University of Melbourne, will investigate management of Australia’s most common mental health problem, depression, in general practice.

APHCRI was set up at Australia’s leading university, ANU, in 2003, as part of a Federal Government strategy to encourage research in primary health care. The Australian Primary Health Care Research Institute is supported by a grant from the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing.

APHCRI Director, Professor Nicholas Glasgow, congratulated the researchers on their success.

“These announcements are very exciting for APHCRI. The four projects address issues of importance to primary health care policy and practice in an innovative way.”

APHCRI Board Chairman Professor John Marley endorsed Professor Glasgow’s comments.

“It's wonderful to have the grants out. These are exciting and original projects from some of Australia's best researchers and they will flow on into real improvements in primary health care in Australia.”


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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