Healthcare has long since been one of Australia’s most in-demand industries, a trend that’s expected to continue according to the Australian government, particularly the demand for nurses. Health Workforce Australia is estimating that there will be a shortage of over 100,000 nurses by 2025 and more than 123,000 nurses by 2030.
The healthcare sector is and always has been one of Australia’s largest and fastest growing industries. Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic Australia faced a major challenge in sustaining a health workforce with an ageing population and ageing health workforce. The latest Bureau of Health Information quarterly report shows even prior to the extraordinary strain of the current COVID-19 outbreak, public hospital emergency departments were facing record-high attendances and patients were waiting longer. This has only been exacerbated by recent Covid-19 strains and outbreaks.
Recently the NSW Nursing and Midwives Association General Secretary, Brett Holmes, said the April to June data (from the Bureau of Health Information quarterly report) further reinforced the urgent need for more nurses and midwives to be recruited to deliver the level of safe care every patient required.
The Covid Effect
Needless to say, Covid-19 has stretched nursing staff to their limits, with many facing burnout as a result. There will be attrition, although how many nurses will leave the industry remains to be seen.
This situation was noted at the height of the pandemic in a 2020 report from the International Council of Nurses. That report stated that around 90 per cent of nurses' associations were concerned about the current workload nurses must shoulder and the stress associated with working through a pandemic: 'Due to existing nursing shortages, the ageing of the nursing workforce and the growing Covid-19 effect, ICN estimates up to 13 million nurses will be needed to fill the global nurse shortage gap in the future', the report said.
In Australia we're seeing similar trends, with the Australian College of Nursing (ACN) noting that coupled with burnout, Australia's nursing workforce problems will only be amplified over coming years due to the knock-on impact of the pandemic and as many nurses approach retirement age. More than 50 per cent of the Australian nursing workforce is over the age of 45 years.
Remedying the Problem
To ensure that Australia can support a safe and healthy population it's imperative to address the workforce crisis through support and encouragement of existing nurses, by inspiring the next generation and future nursing leaders, and ensuring that our nurses are working in the most effective way. In a recent report the ACN outlined Three Key Recommendations.
- Workforce Planning: Which calls on the Australian Government to fund a Transition to Practice Program to help better support newly registered nurses in becoming 'work ready'
- Workforce Utilisation: This priority aims to address changing preferences for older Australian's who prefer to be cared for at home. To support this research, university partnerships, pilot programs and government funding focused on improved utilisation of the nursing workforce in the home care setting are required.
- Nursing Scholarship Programs: Gaps in the nursing workforce, a shortage of skills and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic are all contributing to the nursing shortage. To overcome this, calls to the Australian Government have been made to fund new Nursing Scholarship programs over a four-year period.
These challenges, priorities, and potential solutions will be discussed in detail at the upcoming free to attend Australian Healthcare Week Expo running on March 16th-17th 2022 at the ICC Sydney.
Offering up-to 12 Free CPD points for Nurses and Midwives, the event features insights from Nursing and healthcare workforce leaders, including the ACN and the NSWNMA.