Nursing Shortage

May 1, 2013


The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (16:44): I move:

That this council—

1.Notes the long-term modelling forecasts provided by Health Workforce Australia that suggest there will be a national shortage of 109,000 nurses and midwives by 2025;

2.Is concerned that only 50 per cent of South Australian nurses who graduated in 2012 were employed by the state’s public health system;

3.Urges the Weatherill Labor government to respond by budgeting for more graduate jobs for nurses and for specialist skills development given the loss of experienced nurses that we face in the future; and

4.Calls on the Weatherill Labor government to urgently address both the long-term nursing shortfalls forecast and the current graduate employment figures that risk worsening nursing attrition rates.

In moving this motion, I note that I am reacting to what are startling figures. Australia’s largest health union, Health Workforce Australia, has predicted a shortage of 109,000 nurses and midwives by 2025. The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) reports that in South Australia alone we will be 25,000 nurses short by that same year of 2025 as a result of the baby boomers who will retire over the next five to 10 years.

In the same report, Health Workforce Australia raises other issues which it says require nationally coordinated reform, including (1) a maldistribution of the medical workforce resulting in less accessible services for Australians living in rural, remote and outer metropolitan regions; (2) bottlenecks, inefficiency and insufficient capacity in the training system; and (3) continued reliance on what it describes as poorly coordinated skilled migration to meet essential workforce requirements. That last point is of particular note.

The ANMF says that only half of the nurses who graduated last year, in 2012, were employed by the state’s public health system, yet at the same time we have been hearing consistently about long-term shortages. In fact, the CEO of the ANMF, Elizabeth Debars, says a temporary oversupply risks an even greater shortfall in the long term. She says:

There is a temporary oversupply of graduating nurses and midwives (approximately several hundred p/a). We fear that the failure to employ them into a Transition to Professional Practice Program—TTPP (like an internship for Doctors) and the subsequent failure to employ them once they complete that program will mean that they will be forced to pursue other careers. They will leave SA without adequate numbers and adequately skilled [nursing] workforce. We will not be able to look interstate for alternatives because the other states are experiencing the same issue. Nurses and Midwives are essential to provide health care to the community (representing at least 70% of that health workforce).

The ANMF says that these figures are leaving graduate nurses feeling incredibly vulnerable and that the overarching theme is that people feel passionate about nursing and midwifery and they decide to study both for that passion and for the fact that there is a nursing shortage, yet they are completing their studies and are not being employed. They are deeply distressed when they are force to seek alternative employment in order to pay their mortgage or the rent or to keep food on the table.

There is also a second group in this cohort who have completed their TTPP but they cannot gain permanent employment. They are instead, if they are lucky, being employed on a casual contract basis. This is not helpful to their continuing growth and skills development as a nurse or a midwife. Certainly, this has been an ongoing campaign of the ANMF, and I thank them for that work. You would expect no less of the union for this industry than it would raise such an issue, but it has also enabled its members and potential members to have their voice heard in this debate. I draw members’ attention to the words of those who are most affected by this situation. Merryann states:

…I am in my last year of university and I will need a job. I spent a lot of money to undertake this step of becoming an RN and the government do not see the big picture…I have been an EN for a long time and have undertaken lots of study. Come on Australia support the nurse already working and the new RNs who will be looking for a job in the future.

Helen says:

Let’s give jobs to our new grads here in Australia. Nothing against overseas nurses, they are great, but our new grads should come first.

Kat says:

…Australians need to be aware of the state of their health system and have an input in securing the nursing staff they will no doubt require in the years to come!

Dianne says:

The current situation is very stressful for everyone as it is obvious we want to work, and have worked…towards our degrees….My employee who I have been employed with as an EN for the previous 7 years cannot offer me permanent work, only casual. This is, in part, due to Enrolled Nurses being accredited to perform tasks previously only designated to registered nurses. While I have this casual work, there is not enough so I have joined an agency.

Aliesha states:

I finished UNI in July this year and have applied interstate and at other hospitals in Queensland where I have done my degree. I really hope that we can keep the spotlight on the plight of graduate nurses. There are many graduates I know in Queensland who have been unable to secure jobs after completing their degree. Something has to be done. I am ready to work and am willing to go anywhere.

Julie also states:

I completed my EN two years ago and I didn’t have the opportunity of a graduate position in the hospital as they said there were no positions. It is very sad. I am still doing carer shifts as the EN shifts in aged care are far too demanding and short hours. Regulations should be made for nurse-patient ratio in aged care and nurses on the floor, not off doing paperwork.

There is a lot of angst in the community and certainly in the past few years I have met with graduate nurses who want to work in this industry, who are trained to work in this industry, and have found to their dismay there are not the opportunities that they thought there would be. The government must respond to this crisis by budgeting for more graduate jobs for nurses and midwives. This has to include a skills development program. It is a matter of urgency. We all know that there is an enormous impost on the health budget in this state but if we do not get this right, we will pay the high cost in the future of losing these graduates to a sector that we also desperately need. With that, I commend the motion to the council.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. Carmel Zollo.

Stay Connected

Sign Up to news and updates from Tammy.