Fight is on for Student Nurses

Friday March 01, 2024

NURSING students from regional South Australia are disadvantaged compared to those in metropolitan areas, according to Mount Gambier MP Troy Bell.

Mr Bell questioned state minister for health and wellbeing Chris Picton recently regarding the ongoing issues surrounding regional nursing and accommodation.

MacKillop MP Nick McBride also questioned Mr Picton on the same issue.

Mr Bell claimed students in Adelaide completing placement in Mount Gambier/Berrin would be paid to come to the region, however students completing placement in metropolitan areas were not.

"What I am frustrated about is I have had nursing students contact me that there is free nursing accommodation in Mount Barker but that is quarantined for Adelaide students who are doing their placement in Mount Barker," Mr Bell said.

"I have asked Minister Picton to investigate this and find out if it the case and how that could be because it is extremely discriminatory to regional students." He said following the issue he had since met with Mr Picton's adviser and a Country Health Connect in an effort to help find a solution.

"I know the minister has written to the federal counterpart and health minister that there should be some type of payment for that placement," Mr Bell said.

"It was pleasing that recently we saw the first signs of the federal government announcing some type of placement for teachers, nurses, social workers and it is a pleasing sign." He said despite this, he was also concerned about the "disadvantage" regional students had when having part of their studies in metropolitan areas due to expenses and difficulties with work, "It is great to have the courses at UniSA down here but we also have to provide the support for our students as well," Mr Bell said.

"Nick and I are working very hard in this space, we are heavily involved with the government to try and come up with solutions for our communities and we are challenging them.

"Young people need support but there is also a lot of work which can be done on structuring the courses so they do a majority of their placements locally." Flinders University and UniSA both stated they provide support to nursing students including accommodation for regional students.

Flinders University Student Placement Coordinator for Nursing and Allied Health Rob Stafford said it was able to provide student accommodation for its nursing students in many rural locations free of charge.

"Students pay a security deposit which is refunded at the end of their stay," Mr Stafford said.

"We have 85 beds available to students across the state in locations throughout the Hills Mallee Fleurieu, Greater Green Triangle, Riverland, Mid North, Far North, Barossa Valley and Eyre Peninsula and these beds are available to all Flinders health degree students." He said Flinders University did not have student accommodation in Mount Barker but does have it in Strathalbyn which was free of charge.

Mr Stafford said nursing students who lived more than 50 kilometres out of Adelaide and commuted into the city for university were able to claim a $150 reimbursement if needing to stay in the city.

He said students who resided in Adelaide and had to travel to rural and remote areas for placements were also able to claim $150 per week towards their accommodation expenses as well as fuel reimbursements.

Claims of up to $500 were also available for flights, bus or taxi fares.

"Flinders nursing students who reside in or around Adelaide and are placed in Mt Barker are not-eligible for these reimbursements," Mr Stafford said.

A UniSA spokesperson said it did have accommodation in Mount Barker which was "available to all domestic allied health and nursing students" whether they be from rural or metropolitan areas.

"UniSA has a placement grant available for financially disadvantaged students who need to relocate to complete a placement, this includes rural or remote students undertaking placements in metropolitan areas," the spokesperson said.

"Applications are taken four times throughout the year and the grant is valued at $1,500 or $3,000, depending on placement length.

"There are a broad range of scholarships for regionally located students offered by UniSA, the Australian Government and various industry partners, some of which apply specifically to placements." Federal minister for health Mark Butler was contacted for comment as was SA Health and Mr Picton.

Mr Picton stated in Parliament as a response to Mr Bell and Mr McBride's questions that he would enquire about the accommodation in Mount Barker.

He also stated there was some progress in solving the issue with a pilot program being worked on between SA Health and the office of nursing and midwifery.

It was also in conjunction with UniSA, the Northern Adelaide Local Health Network, the Yorke and Northern Local Health Network and the Barossa Hills Fleurieu Local Health Network.

"I acknowledge it is not particularly in your area, but I am hoping that this will be a program that we can then expand to other regional areas across the state," Mr Picton said.