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Numbers of nurses and midwives are rising in Australia ahead of population growth, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The report, Nursing and midwifery workforce 2012, shows that there were around 334,000 nurses and midwives registered in Australia in 2012, or 6.8% more than the 313,000 registered in 2008.

'The number of nurses and midwives actually employed in nursing and midwifery also rose, from around 270,000 to around 290,000, or by 7.5% over the same period', said AIHW spokesperson Dr Adrian Webster.

'Despite the relatively large increase in numbers, the supply of nurses and midwives rose by 0.5% between 2008 and 2012-from 1,118 to 1,124 full-time equivalent nurses and midwives per 100,000 people.'

The supply of nurses and midwives per 100,000 people varied between urban and more remote areas, however, unlike many health professions, the variation was relatively small and the supply was greatest in very remote areas rather than in more urban areas. In Major cities there were 1,134 full-time equivalent nurses and midwives per 100,000 people, while in Very remote areas this rate was 1,303 per 100,000 people.

Of those employed in nursing and midwifery, over 238,000 were registered nurses (including midwives) and about 52,000 were enrolled nurses.

'There were around 31,000 midwives employed in 2012, almost all of whom were also registered nurses,' Dr Webster said.

Of all employed clinical nurses and midwives, almost two-thirds worked in hospitals. The clinical area of nursing and midwifery with the largest number of workers was aged care (41,300), which includes work in both residential aged care facilities and hospitals.

Almost twice as many registered nurses worked in the public sector compared to the private sector, and nurses working in the public sector worked more hours on average than those in the private sector.

On the whole, the average weekly hours worked by employed nurses and midwives remained the same between 2008 and 2012, at 33.4 hours.

'Nursing and midwifery continue to be female-dominated professions, with women making up almost 90% of employed nurses and midwives in 2012,' Dr Webster said.

The average age of nurses and midwives rose slightly between 2008 and 2012, from 44.1 to 44.6 years.

'The proportion of older nurses and midwives has increased, with those aged 50 years and older increasing from 35% to 39% over the 2008-2012 period,' Dr Webster said.

The AIHW is a major national agency set up by the Australian Government to provide reliable, regular and relevant information and statistics on Australia's health and welfare.

Canberra, 29 November 2013

Further information: Dr Adrian Webster, tel. (02) 6244 1119, mob. 0434 022 127

Full publication: Nursing and midwifery workforce 2012