A nursing school in Central Auckland believes it is now facing more than a two-year wait for certification despite graduates of the same programme in Australia being cleared for work here.

The Healthcare Academy of New Zealand, operated by UP Education, has had facilities ready to take on nursing students since the end of 2022 but has been stalled as the Nursing Council undertakes a sector-wide review.

Healthcare Academy planned to start with a diploma in enrolled nursing with an 18-month course it hoped would help create a domestic pipeline of nurses, including greater numbers of Māori and Pasifika nurses capable of culturally appropriate care, instead of relying on immigration.

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The idea was that the current standard three-year Bachelor of Nursing degree could be off-putting considering perceptions of end pay and the time and commitment involved.

The end result would be a job as an enrolled nurse, rather than a registered nurse, the difference being enrolled nurses are not able to create patient management plans and require supervision in some instances.

UP Education offers a near identical programme in Australia, with its graduates able to practise nursing in New Zealand under the Trans-Tasman Mutual Recognition Act.

Currently, Te Pūkenga can offer an 18-month diploma of enrolled nursing in New Zealand because it also offers a nursing bachelor programme.

Recognising the difficulty there, the Nursing Council (responsible for regulating the education and practice of nurses) has been undertaking a review of the enrolled nurse scope of practice.

The Nursing Council has approved a new scope statement for implementation in 2024, and it told Newsroom it envisages this to come into effect next year after public consultation.

In April, Healthcare Academy chief executive Ana Maria Rivera told Newsroom she expected a 12-month delay and to be opening in early to mid-2024.

That relative optimism has faded, and after a year of waiting, Rivera is now expecting it to take a further 12 to 18 months.

“The reality is with where we’re at now, we still don’t have a clear timeline as to when we might be able to begin getting accreditation for the programme.”

Rivera said she had been told the registered and enrolled nursing scopes would be wrapped together from early 2024.

“Then there’s the consultation on what the actual education standards might look like, so I said to [Nursing Council chief executive Catherine Byrne] that this sounds to me like a 12-18-month delay.

“I didn’t get a reply, but that is my assumption given how consultation processes work with the Nursing Council.”

At the extreme end, Rivera’s estimated timeline could push the opening schedule to early 2025.

The facility, which got $370,000 in taxpayer funding through the Tertiary Education Committee, will sit empty until the consultation comes to an end.

“I have staff hired and ready to go, but luckily we’re quite nimble and I’ve got them working on other health qualifications, so they are doing other things.

“The broader issue is we thought we could be part of a solution to a problem, and the bureaucracy around it is astonishing. There’s just no movement.”

Rivera accepted the scope of practice needed to be looked at. “But it shouldn’t mean that when there’s a crisis, everything grinds to a halt and no new player is allowed in the market.”

The New Zealand Nurses Organisation expects the nursing workforce is about 4000 short, but has gone on record against the Healthcare Academy’s approach to private nursing education.

It is however keen to see more done to address the workforce, including supporting Labour’s plan to allow nurses “to earn as they learn”, even if they said it was unclear what that meant.

It has come out swinging against National and Labour over what it sees as a lack of real proposals to grow the workforce domestically instead of “poaching nurses from poorer countries where they are sorely needed”.

Andrew Bevin is an Auckland-based business reporter who covers major industries, markets, regulation, aged care and fisheries.

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