Health Minister Dr David Clark responded to questions and comments from the floor at last weekend’s South GP CME conference, saying he was convinced of the value of the NP workforce.

Marlborough nurse practitioner Diane Williams told Clark she would like to see a commitment from the Ministry of Health to ensure that Health Workforce New Zealand (HWNZ) saw the value of NP skills and capabilities and increased the number of funded places on the NPTP programme (see more below).

She also said that more local research was also needed to explore the difference that NPs working in general practices can make in primary health care.

“I know I’m preaching to the converted for GPs who do use our services,” said Williams. “But we really need the research to convince other places to use our skills.”

Clark said he would take on board the comments saying he had seen and heard of “plenty of examples where nurse practitioners were being used to great effect”. “I also know that Heather Simpson (chair of the Health and Disability System Review) is very interested in different models of care that are being offered.”

He said the Health Research Council has commissioned a research evaluation of primary care and the models being used but he was also aware of some of the challenges the NP workforce faced in building a workforce from a small base – particularly in DHB regions where there are few NPs practising.

“And I’m personally absolutely convinced of the value of growing our nurse practitioner workforce.”

Clark also called on NPs, GPs and other health professionals to share “early” and “often” their challenges and solutions to the Simpson-led Health Review.

There are currently 318 nurse practitioners with annual practising certificates – up on 299 in mid-March this year.

Update on NPTP

Earlier this year the Ministry of Health released a positive evaluation report of the first cohort of the Nurse Practitioner Training Programme (NPTP) and sought feedback on whether to expand beyond the current 20 places a year.

The Ministry has reported back that Health Workforce New Zealand is intending to put the NPTP out to competitive tender – probably at the end of this month – after the majority of the 29 submissions called for the programme to be expanded.  There was also general agreement on the importance of sustainable funding including funding for release time, travel, accommodation, and ongoing education. Plus targeting entry into the programme for Māori and Pacific nurses. It is not known yet how many NPTP places would be funded for 2019.

The evaluation report looked at the 19 nurses who were part of the first fully-funded NPTP cohort in 2016 (18 of whom gained registration as NPs) and compared them with 49 recently registered NPs who had gained registration through other pathways – mostly through having their clinical masters degrees via the regular HWNZ postgraduate funding pool.

The NPTP programme is funded for 500 hour clinical hours of training  – two clinical practicums of 250 hours each in advanced nursing practice and advanced diagnostic reasoning. Prospective NPs under standard HWNZ funding do not get full funding support for the clinical training practicum requirement of a clinical masters’ programme.

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