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Following success in Victoria, the Nurse and Midwife Health Program Australia launches in 2024

Following success in Victoria, the Nurse and Midwife Health Program Australia launches in 2024

NMHPV CEO Glenn Taylor. Photo: Christopher Hopkins

Victorian nurses, midwives and students of nursing and midwifery have, for almost 20 years, had access to a unique health program designed solely to support them. In 2024, our interstate and territory colleagues will finally have the same opportunity.

The Nurse and Midwife Health Program Australia (NMHPA) will be launched in early 2024. Based on the long-running and successful Nursing and Midwifery Health Program Victoria (NMHPV), it is being established as a free, confidential and independent health program designed, led and provided by nurses and midwives, for nurses and midwives – just like the Victorian program.

Identifying a need

The need for such a program was identified by ANMF in Victoria in the early 2000s. It has long been understood, says NMHPV CEO Glenn Taylor, that nurses and midwives can be reluctant to seek help, even though the nature of our work has the potential to take a significant toll on our own health and wellbeing. But because nurses and midwives are only human, that stiff upper lip approach has its drawbacks.

‘A qualification in nursing and midwifery doesn’t quarantine us from experiencing sadness, emotional problems, psychological problems or spiritual challenges,’ Glenn says, ‘and we sometimes employ unhelpful coping mechanisms– such as using alcohol and drugs – to manage stress, anxiety or other challenges. Whilst these strategies may be helpful in the short-term and provide relief, they invariably accentuate the problems, mask the underlying issues and further complicate matters.’

For nurses and midwives, that complication includes not just risks to our physical and mental health but risks to our registration, livelihoods, colleagues and the public. Seeing the need for a service to help nurses and midwives manage alcohol and drug use in a safe, respectful and confidential way, in 2006 the then Australian Nursing Federation (Vic Branch) worked with the Nurses Board of Victoria as well as members in the alcohol and other drug (AOD) sector – particularly registered nurse Heather Pickard – to establish NMHPV.

Glenn, a registered nurse with a background in the mental health and AOD spaces, joined NMHPV in 2008. By then, he says, it had already recognised that alcohol and drug challenges were just part of the larger psychological health concerns that Victoria’s nurses and midwives faced. ‘And we’re not talking significant diagnoseable injury or disease or illness,’ Glenn clarifies. ‘We’re talking about everyday matters like stress, exposure to vicarious trauma, abuse, working antisocial hours – typical stuff confronted by nurses and midwives.’

So NMHPV’s scope broadened and today, while AOD remains a significant part of their work, the staff – nurses and midwives with relevant training and experience in the profession – support their nursing and midwifery colleagues with any and all health and wellbeing concerns.

This includes concerns not related to work. ‘You’re only a nurse or a midwife for eight or nine or 10 hours a day,’ Glenn says. ‘Outside that, you’re a family member, a child, a partner, a parent, a carer, a volunteer. So we support nurses and midwives for any matter, big or small – whether it be family violence; the emotional and physical impact of floods, fires, drought, pandemics; or general anxiety.’

The program’s success, Glenn says, stems from the fact that early on they sought the advice of nurses and midwives by asking them simple questions such as:

  • What would help you to ask for help?
  • Where would that happen?
  • Who would run it?

Their answers provided the model that’s underpinned NMHPV since the start: it’s free; it’s confidential; it’s independent; it’s run by and provided by nurses and midwives for nurses and midwives.

Victoria leads the way

The same model will drive the national program, which is the result of a 2022 election commitment from Anthony Albanese. Federal ANMF had sought a commitment from the then opposition leader to support a national extension of the successful Victorian program, and Albanese promised to implement such a program and provide funding up to $23 million.

On 15 November 2022, the Albanese Government announced a $25.2 million investment to establish and run the new national program, which will benefit from NMHPV’s experience over almost 20 years of operation.

‘NMHPA puts the spotlight on Victoria, and what Victoria has been doing for 18 years.’ – Glenn Taylor

Heather Pickard is now the director of NMHPA, in charge of its implementation alongside deputy director Mark Aitken. A registered nurse, Mark has worked with the Victorian service for many years, so their combined knowledge and experience is the perfect fit for NMHPA. They have been working towards the launch since January 2023, and Mark expects the service to be up and running by around April – at the time of writing, they were about to begin recruitment of staff.

For Victorian nurses and midwives, nothing will change. If a nurse or midwife in Victoria ends up calling the NMHPA line, they will be referred through to NMHPV.

‘We are not in competition,’ Mark says. ‘We will work collaboratively in the best interests of the health and wellbeing of nurses, midwives and students.’

Glenn agrees: ‘I think everyone wins – obviously the other states and jurisdictions and their nurses and midwives. But it’s also great vindication for Victoria, and the Victorian model: it’s been heavily researched, heavily evaluated and proven a great success. NMHPA puts the spotlight on Victoria, and what Victoria has been doing for 18 years.’