‘If this was happening in big corporate business, there would be an outcry’, says APNA chief Karen Booth.
One in four nurses working in Australia’s primary health care sector is considering leaving their job in the next two to five years, according to the largest survey of the sector.
And three out of four nurses reported feeling exhausted, stressed or burnt out at work, according to data from the Australian Primary Health Care Nurse’s Association’s (APNA) 2022 Workforce Survey.
The 2022 survey was the largest ever for the APNA, with more than 4000 responses. The release of data comes in the same week as APNA opened its 2023 Workforce Survey opened this week. See here to access the survey.
APNA President Karen Booth said it demonstrated the urgency behind efforts to retain experienced nurses and establish sustainable recruitment and training pipelines to bring through Australia’s next generation of PHC nurses.
Key findings from the APNA 2022 Workforce Survey included:
- More than one in four (26.2%) primary health care nurses are considering leaving their current job within the next two to five years.
- Nearly one in 10 (9.75%) primary health care nurses are considering leaving their current job within the next 12 months.
- Three quarters (74.2%) of primary health care nurses said they felt exhausted at work. Three quarters (74.5%) of primary health care nurses said they felt stressed at work, and nearly three quarters (72.1%) of primary health care nurses said they felt burnt out at work.
- Two thirds (66.4%) of primary health care nurses said they had an excessive workload.
- Two-thirds (66.3%) of primary health care nurses said they worked overtime.
Ms Booth said this unrelenting pressure had created a crisis in meeting Australia’s primary health care needs.
“Australia is at risk of not having enough suitably trained primary health care nurses to staff aged care homes, general practices and other primary health care settings in coming years,” she said.
“This loss of nursing skills represents a significant lost opportunity for the Australian health system, employers and patients.
“We are not only talking about a loss of workforce investment here, but we are also talking about the loss of corporate knowledge that we would normally expect would train and support the new workforce entrants— that is, renewal of the workforce.
“If this was happening in big corporate business, there would be an outcry.”
Ms Booth said the reasons for the problem varied from sector to sector. Aged care nurses felt overwhelmed by constant change and uncertainty over whether they would receive the 15% pay increase ordered by the Fair Work Commission and continued poor staffing levels.
Nurses in general practice were poorly utilised, while nurse practitioners were restricted from using the additional skills they have learned through their advanced training and experience, she said.
“Primary health nurses are one of the most affordable and effective ways of keeping patients with chronic health conditions as healthy as they can be, well managed and out of hospital,” said Ms Booth.
“Patients deserve to receive treatment and education from nurses who are well-resourced and aren’t run off their feet with too much else to do.
“We can’t afford to have highly skilled, experienced and motivated primary health care nurses leaving the profession when there is so much work to be done to keep people well and out of hospital, including cardiovascular education and management, vaccinations, wound care and primary health care screening.”
Ms Booth said the figures also demonstrated the urgency behind efforts to establish sustainable recruitment and training pipelines to bring through Australia’s next generation of primary health care nurses to sustain the workforce.
Federal government initiatives such as the national Scope of Practice review, 6000 additional primary health care clinical placements, 1850 graduate nurse practitioner scholarships, and incentives to get PHC nurses back into the workforce would make a difference to PHC nurse retention, she said.
The government’s talk of reforming Medicare around a multidisciplinary model of care was also welcome and would also go some way to alleviating this situation.
“Now is the time for a call to arms for nurses to help inform the future direction of our workforce,” Ms Booth said.
“Decision makers in state, territory, and federal governments and health departments can make a real difference to primary health care nurses by ensuring they are highly visible in health policy development and that the collective voice of primary health care nursing continues to be heard in all future reviews.”