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More nurses fed up, set to bolt

Survey finds heavy workloads, lack of respect driving people from profession. 

Preliminary findings from a national survey have shown an increase of 8 percentage points in the number of nurses wanting to leave the profession over the next 12 months.

Researchers from Monash University reported that nurses have become increasingly frustrated with heavy workloads and a lack of respect. A total of 23 per cent of those surveyed planned to leave the profession during the next year, up from 15 per cent two years ago.

The study also found that 33 per cent of nurses frequently think about leaving the profession and 41 per cent plan to explore other opportunities.

Monash’s Dr Belinda Allen said the results suggest the profession is in crisis and that policymakers and governments are yet to come to terms with how bad things are.

“It’s an ageing workforce,” Allen said. “On average our respondents were 49 years old. So we have a mass exodus coming, as a lot of them will retire.

“There also seem to be issues with retaining graduates who enter the occupation, [so we] don’t seem to be able to hold on to new nurses, [and] at the same time we have an ageing population that is going to require high levels of healthcare.”

ANMF federal secretary Lee Thomas said the survey results, along with feedback from members, showed that nurses and midwives are fed up.

She warned conditions are taking a toll on frontline nurses.

“At a time of growing nurse shortages across health and aged care, the current workforce is being forced to [perform] in an environment of heavy workloads, no nationally mandated nurse-to-patient ratios, attacks on their conditions and an overall lack of professional recognition.

“[These results] prove that Australia urgently needs solutions to ensure a future nursing and midwifery workforce to replace current staff who are set to retire over the next 15 to 20 years,” she said.

Survey results showed that inadequate nurse-to-patient ratios were of major concern to nurses working in hospitals, as well as those in the mental health and aged-care sectors – adding to continued workload issues.

Nurses also felt overlooked by senior management – an element that wasn’t explored in the previous study conducted in 2011.

“[Nurses felt] like, as professionals, they weren’t really acknowledged and respected in their organisations and that their skills and experience weren’t valued,” Allen said.

According to the survey’s findings, nurses were feeling like numbers and felt patients were being treated the same way, undermining their ability to provide high-quality care. However, line managers had the vote of confidence from nearly 50 per cent of nurses – respected for being supportive, fair and understanding concerns.

The main reasons given for staying in the profession included the belief it was important patients were properly cared for (91 per cent) and the ability to develop close personal connections with patients (68 per cent).

Thomas stressed that the incoming federal government has a real opportunity to address the nursing crisis.

“If nurses and midwives are to be retained, governments must act on better wages, training and education, well-defined career pathways, mandated staffing levels and the right skills mix to match patient need,” she said.

The team of researchers revealed the full findings in a presentation as part of the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation’s 2013 Professional Issues in Practice Conference on September 19 in Melbourne.

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