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Staff turnover costs piling up

The health system needs better retention of nurses or the expense will be crippling. 

To ensure a sustainable health system for Australia, workforce planning and reform that target nurse retention are critical, a recent study shows.

Published online in early June, The Rate and Cost of Nurse Turnover in Australia stated that turnover is a “critical concern” healthcare organisations face, particularly due to high cost.

The report showed the total cost of turnover was highest in the ACT ($68,621), followed by WA ($58,260) and NSW ($26,199).The average cost of turnover per FTE was calculated at $49,255 across the sample.

Professor nursing and health services management at University of Technology, Sydney, Christine Duffield, co-authored the report. She said one of the significant findings was that the costs of turnover are nearly twice as high as in other studies using the same methodology.

This was found to be due largely to temporary placement costs, which include sick leave and maternity leave and made up a large portion of the overall turnover expense (44.4 per cent).

Duffield said high temporary replacement costs could be attributed to wards holding vacant positions so they can increase or decrease staff as the need occurs or employers putting people in temporarily in a ‘try before you buy’ staffing model.

She also pointed to the impact of turnover on outcomes aside from cost, such as added pressure on already overburdened staff. “It makes the wards not stable, it makes knowing the routines much more difficult and it makes working together as a team more difficult,” Duffield explained.

She said the key to retaining staff is definitely what happens in the work environment. “The person who is most likely to influence [retention] is the nurse or midwife in charge of the ward. They are the critical positions and they need to have the skills to understand human behaviour and look at retaining staff.”

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