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Expert care needed for chronically ill

Expert care needed for chronically ill

There is a major shortage of healthcare workers expert in caring for the chronically ill, according to academics from a new nursing programme.

Dr Elizabeth Niven, Nursing Co-ordinator for postgraduate studies at UNITEC, says finding enough trained professionals to care for people with chronic health problems is becoming a major issue. "People are living longer and living with serious conditions that would have been fatal 20 years ago. For instance, once people with cystic fibrosis would not have survived beyond childhood but now they can live into their 30s and even start families. There aren't enough trained people to help them deal with their condition and get on with their lives."

A long-term health needs course was developed as part of the new Master of Health Science (Nursing) [MHSci (Nursing)] to train health workers for this role. Although the postgraduate degree is for nursing practitioners, a range of healthcare professionals - from physios to occupational thearapists - can do the course without enrolling in the masters programme.

Lecturer Dr Dianne Roy believes a change in focus in healthcare has contributed to the shortage of health workers to care for the chronically ill. "In the past we were more hospital-focused, but now there is a recognition that people with long-term health needs can be cared for in the community. There are problems of recruitment and retention in all nursing clinical specialties and this is one area in particular that has suffered."

Unlike other masters programmes in nursing, Dr Niven says the new degree takes a broad approach, equipping nurses with management and leadership skills that are applicable in many different roles. "Most nursing masters focus on clinical specialities. This degree recognises that nurses move beyond specialties and need to be equipped with general skills."

The increasing complexity and politicisation of the health sector means nurses in management positions often need to lobby for resources and take a strategic approach to nursing, she says. "They have to be able to step back, look beyond individual patients and see the bigger picture."

The Masters has an online option for most courses, which means nurses can complete many of the degree's components from anywhere in New Zealand. UNITEC is offering the masters degree and long-term health needs course from 2004.

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