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Internet to lure nurses back to jobs

By Andrea Carson, Workplace Reporter, The Age,
Monday 13 March 2000

Information technology will play a crucial role in a bid to overcome Melbourne's critical shortage of nurses.

Under its New Millennium Nursing Project, the North-Western Health network will hire 200 extra nurses over the next three years.

To create a better working environment for nurses, clinical areas will get an extra 100 computers and Internet kiosks will be set up across the eight-campus network.

The first kiosk has been set up in the Royal Melbourne Hospital cafeterias to give staff free Internet access during breaks and updates from hospital management through the hospital's Intranet system.

All nurses will have e-mail accounts and nurses on night duty can sort out pay-roll problems or other matters from the ward computer instead of coming in during office hours.

In addition, nurses can apply for the jobs over the Internet.

Late last year Royal Melbourne Hospital research found nursing numbers were at record lows, with an 11 per cent drop in permanent ward staff and a 30 per cent shortfall of nurses in specialised areas.

The network's principal nurse and RMH chief nursing officer, Ms Sue Williams, said universities were training enough nurses but the problem was keeping them on the wards. She said the shortage was greatest in specialised areas such as intensive care, the emergency department, aged care and mental health.

The network has 3000 nursing positions. Numbers had fallen after postgraduate courses were administered through universities. The courses cost nurses up to $8000, but they receive no extra pay benefits after successfully completing them.

One of the biggest vacancy rates in the network was among grade-two nurses - registered nurses employed for more than a year.

Ms Williams said focus groups of 460 nurses found they wanted greater flexibility in working hours, better rosters, more communication with senior management and changes to some work practices.

Grade-two nurses wanted better training and education opportunities. We had spent so much time focusing on the graduates that the grade-twos' education needs had been overlooked, she said.

Ms Williams said grade-two nurses had taken on greater workloads in recent years because of higher patient turnovers, and grade-twos were often expected to help inexperienced graduate nurses.

In the focus groups, nurses complained about stress arising from broken equipment and having too many casual nurses on the wards. By and large the focus groups showed us that nurses do not want expensive things, she said.

Ms Williams said a database had been set up to track ward nursing vacancies. The data was used to target the areas where they needed recruits and better manage the placement of casual staff. Since the database was established, permanent nursing vacancies fell from 97 to 22 at the Royal Melbourne.

To fix some of the problems and retain staff over the next two years, the network will provide, among other things: