News of a funding extension for a pilot nurse practitioner training programme is being welcomed as another sign of the NP movement gaining momentum.
An $846,00 demonstration of the one-year NP training programme is currently underway with 21 would-be nurse practitioners enrolled but the nursing sector had been unclear whether dedicated funding for the programme would continue beyond this year. Demand for the programme had been confirmed with 49 applicants applying last year for initially just 20 places.
Health Workforce New Zealand (HWNZ) has now said there will be dedicated funding for nurse practitioner training in 2017 above and beyond the postgraduate nursing funding pool and it was exploring extending the number of providers beyond the current two demonstration sites; the University of Auckland and Massey University.
Jane Jeffcoat, the chair of Nurse Practitioners New Zealand (NPNZ), warmly welcomed the news saying the sector had really needed a course that was specific to NPs and provided clarity for NP training requirements. Jeffcoat saw the funding and recent shifts to remove barriers (see August 10 story) as part of a groundswell for the NP movement with membership of NPNZ heading quickly towards 200.
Dr Michal Boyd, an NP and University of Auckland lecturer who was one of the programme instigators, said extending funding for the NP programme was a "very good thing". She also believed there was an increasing impetus in the nurse practitioner movement with the Nursing Council approving high numbers of new NPs this year, "lots of calls" about the NP training programme and increasing interest from employers.
"It just feels that the message has finally got out there that you've this amazing workforce out there in nurse practitioners so why would you bring in another one (physician assistants). I think it is finally bedding down," said Boyd. "It feels like a tipping point."
Professor Jenny Carryer, executive director of the College of Nurses which has been a long-time advocate of NPs, said it was "excellent news" that HWNZ has found a way to fund the programme which was an "absolutely vital form of workforce development". She said it was clear to her that the demand for NPs especially in primary health, palliative and aged care, was growing steadily and it was essential to develop the NP workforce as quickly as possible.
Dr Paul Watson, acting strategy and relationships manager for HWNZ, said HWNZ and the Office of the Chief Nursing Office were working with the National Nursing Organisations group to review progress of the NP training programme demonstration.
Boyd said the pilot programme was targeted at aged care, mental health and primary health care positions and about two-thirds of the NP students were working in those areas – the majority in primary health care. The remaining third were from other specialties and were employed by district health boards.
Watson said it would also be working with directors of nursing to ascertain the likely employer demand for NP positions in the next few years and working with the other nursing schools accredited to educate nurse practitioners about the feasibility of making the revised NP training programme available to other providers. Meanwhile would-be NPs not offered places on this year's pilot or next year's programme can still access funding via the postgraduate nursing education pool to complete the clinical masters degree and prescribing practicum required before they can seek NP registration.
Carryer, who is Professor of Nursing at Massey, said careful evaluation of the existing programme was essential before it was extended but overall the funding confirmation was great news and allowed them to begin planning for 2017. "In terms of spreading the programme more broadly this suggests that nursing itself needs to think quickly about the appropriate number and location of NP training programmes."
A criteria for all applicants to the demonstration programme was having backing in writing from an employer ready to support them during the training year and offer them an NP job once registered.
During the 10 month supported programme the trainees complete their clinical masters degree plus commit two days a week to meeting clinical practicum requirements in prescribing and diagnostic reasoning. They also complete their portfolio ready to apply to the Nursing Council for NP registration.
Meanwhile Nursing Council chief executive Carolyn Reed says the registration process for the demonstration programme graduates will be the same as for previous NP candidates and will include a Nursing Council assessment panel.
Boyd said the programme had been working with the Council to set a deadline for when the programme's NP candidates need to submit their portfolio by to be ready for assessment panel dates set for early next year. The result should be 21 new NPs registered in early 2017 who would step straight into a waiting job, said Boyd.
NB article updated August 10 2016