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High staff turnover is costing Indigenous health

A high turnover of healthcare staff in the Northern Territory is putting the lives of Indigenous Australians at risk, and more nursing education is needed, according to a new university report.

A recent study by Flinders University professor and Associate Dean John Wakerman found that half of all staff in remote healthcare clinics resigned within four months on the job, and two-thirds left the profession of remote healthcare in less than a year.

“The extraordinarily high turnover of staff in remote clinics has a number of implications for the Indigenous residents of these communities, the health services and the NT more generally,” he said.

“High staff turnover is costly, and these are additional cost pressures on an already under-resourced remote primary care system.

“In this complex work context, a high turnover of staff interrupts the important process of building relationships and trust between health professionals and consumers.

“Add to this the fact that many of the short-term nursing staff are relatively inexperienced and there are inevitably issues of safety and effectiveness of the service able to be delivered.”

Professor Wakerman is now working to quantify the costs involved in the turnover of staff, and the effectiveness of current health services.

He believes that these services need a new workforce model, further funding and more opportunities for Indigenous residents to study nursing.

“We need to take a more systemic approach to achieving greater remote health workforce stability; this may mean more appropriate workforce models such as three months on and three months off, with nurses returning to the same community,” he said.

“Turnover amongst Aboriginal staff was lower, so we should expand career development opportunities for Aboriginal residents into Aboriginal Health Practitioner and nursing courses.

“These are tough but meaningful jobs, and these study findings provide valuable information and baseline data that can inform effective policy development.”

Professor Wakerman said the research was part of a broader study that would incorporate other Indigenous communities.

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One comment

  1. Well I’ve got news for Dr Walkerman. Indigenous health workers once qualified only spend a short time in their communities because they get just as fed up as non-indigenous health professionals. They get fed up with unrealistic KPI’s, budgets and expectations from the system as well as the attitude of entitlement that pervade many indigenous community members.

    Having worked in remote NT communities and regional areas in QLD in Indigenous Health (both Aboriginal and TSI communities), I was often told that ” you’re a white fella; it’s your job and responsibility to keep me healthy”. One can only work in that sort of environment for so long before coming jaded.

    What is not needed is another academic conducting yet another study. A round-table in various communities between community members, health care team members and health policy makers is what is needed.

    Overall working in Indigenous Health in Metro, Regional and Remote areas I found to be very rewarding both professionally and spiritually. What is needed is commitment from all sides, not another study.

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