National

Nursing workforce bolstered to face virus

By AAP Newswire

Australia's intensive care workforce is being bolstered from all angles so hospitals are better equipped to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

Up to 20,000 registered nurses will be trained online for high demand and intensive care needs, including fitting ventilators, at a cost to taxpayers of $4.1 million.

Health Minister Greg Hunt expects all the places to be filled, praising nurses for their hard work during the crisis.

"They are on the front line, along with our doctors and other health and medical staff and they are literally saving lives and protecting lives," he told reporters in Melbourne on Thursday.

Mr Hunt said a further 3000 former nurses had also put their hand up to return to the workforce.

The government has previously committed to funding up to 10,000 refresher courses to get out-of-work nurses back into the health sector, while easing visa requirements for student nurses.

Australia's chief nurse Alison McMillan said the online courses would be as good as hands-on training.

"The company that we have contracted to do this has got more than 25 years of experience in this type of education," she told ABC radio.

Ms McMillan said nursing was not necessarily a dangerous job because of coronavirus, but it was challenging.

"We really do appreciate that this is a worrying time."

Labor's health spokesman Chris Bowen welcomed the government's online training announcement, saying he's confident the quality will be high enough to prepare nurses.

Mr Bowen has raised concerns about the more than 1000 nurses he says are backpacking in Australia, who are being forced to pick fruit but could help in the fight against the virus.

He says the nurses have to leave pop-up clinics and hospitals to meet visa requirements by performing other work in regional Australia, like picking fruit on farms.

"In this crisis, that is simply not sensible and we do believe that working holiday visa requirements on those nurses should be waived," he told reporters in Sydney.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison says such issues are being worked on, as some backpackers are also aged and disability care workers.

"They're an important part of that service, so we are looking at how we can ensure that they're better utilised during the course of this current crisis," he told reporters in Canberra.