Academic journal article Rural Society

The Changing Role of Bush Nurses in East Gippsland, Victoria

Academic journal article Rural Society

The Changing Role of Bush Nurses in East Gippsland, Victoria

Article excerpt


Historically, rural and remote communities have experienced limited or no access to any kind of medical assistance. In recognising these Issues, Lady Dudley, wife of Australia's fourth Governor-General, facilitated the progress of rural nursing services for geographically disadvantaged areas. Subsequently, in 1910 the Victorian Bush Nursing Association was formed to assist rural and remote Victorian communities to apply for and obtain the services of appropriately qualified nurses (Priestly, 1986).

There are numerous small communities dispersed across East Gippsland, separated by vast areas of forest and steep mountain ranges. The communities range in size from less than 200 people to a maximum of about 500 people, and are serviced by a limited network of sealed, winding roads. The variety of services available in these communities has declined over the last years, the result of social, environmental and political forces.

Similar to many rural areas in Australia, East Glppsland has been subjected to negative outcomes from economic rationalisation and environmental incidents. The recent amendments to state forestry agreements have impacted on remote populations in East Gippsland, where local economies are heavily reliant on this industry (Blesser & Hallas, 2003). In the past six years, this region has witnessed a range of environmental disasters that have resulted in negative influences on the primary industries, tourism and retail businesses supporting the region's economy (East Gippsland Shire Council, 2003; Department of Natural Resources and Environment Victoria, Department of Human Services Victoria, East Gippsland Catchment Management Authority & East Gippsland Shire Council, 1999).

Despite the changing times, one service that has continually provided services to these remote communities is the five Bush Nursing Centres (BNCs). These single nurse-operated centres provide a 24 hour primary health service to remote communities. The communities are without a local medical practitioner, hospital and pharmacist. Over the past decade, all the BNCs have experienced considerable change within their local communities and within the health system.

Declining populations in remote communities have resulted in a decrease in services at the local level, and the closure of businesses and industries that previously supported local employment. However, new residents are moving into rural communities. At the same time, tourist numbers to the region are increasing, with the populations in the isolated towns frequently double during the holiday seasons (Blesser & Hallas. 2003).

Developments and declines have impacted on the social, economic and cultural fabric of small rural communities. These experiences have also Influenced the health status of the population, and consequently the role and practice of the bush nurse. The traditional role of the bush nurse, that of delivering acute care and emergency treatment, has now broadened in response to shifts in local demographics and advancements within the nursing profession. Once segregated both geographically and professionally, the bush nurses of East Gippsland are now viewed as an integral part of the Victorian health care system (Blesser & Hallas, 2003; Burley, Duffy. McGrail & Selgloff, 2002), providing vital primary and trauma care in partnership with health providers, clients and communities throughout East Gippsland and beyond.

A socio-economic snapshot of the region

The Shire of East Gippsland covers 21,000 square kilometres, and is the second largest shire in Victoria with a resident population of approximately 40,000 people. Visually, East Glppsland offers some of Victoria's most stunning scenery; however, socially and economically the residents of East Glppsland fare no better than other rural Australian areas. Of the resident population in June 2000, 50 percent were aged over 40 years, and nearly half over 60 years. …

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