First nurse at medical centre
IT WAS always going to be a controversial plan - but one local health professional is showing it was a sound one.
Sawtell Medical Centre's Jeff Hardcastle is the North Coast Area Health Services' first registered nurse practitioner.
The Australian Nursing Federation began calling for health reform in 2008, proposing special nurse practitioners be allowed to provide services under Medicare.
In a submission to the Health and Hospitals Reform Commission, the ANF said nurse practitioners should be widely used to ease the burden on doctors.
"With the ability to initiate diagnostic tests, prescribe specified medications and make referrals to other health professionals, they can provide a vital service and improve access to care," the submission said.
Despite strong opposition from doctors and the Australian Medical Association, the health reforms were passed - and now, four years later, Sawtell Medical Centre has its first nurse practitioner in private practice.
Mr Hardcastle will initiate tests, prescribe medications and make referrals.
As a psychiatric specialist with decades of high-level experience, he will also fill a gap left by the severe shortage of psychiatric doctors in the region.
"I've always focussed on nursing, and mental health nursing in particular," Mr Hardcastle said.
"I've been doing it for 42 years. Now as a nurse practitioner I offer another option, or referral base, for GPs that allows them to have mental health input into their health practice."