Nurse numbers falling

The number of employed nurses in Australia has fallen 8% in six years, from a high of 209,000 in 1991 to 192,000 in 1997, according to Nursing Labour Force 1995, a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

Not only have nurse numbers dropped, so has the number of students graduating from nursing courses-down 12% between 1993 and 1996. The number of students starting nursing courses is also falling-by 11.4% between 1993 and 1997.

Head of the AIHW's Labour Force Unit, John Harding, said that in public hospitals, where nearly half of all nurses were employed, nurses were coping with increasing numbers of patients, although there had been little change to nurses' workloads in terms of staffing per available hospital bed.

'Between 1985-86 and 1995-96, the number of full-time equivalent nurses in these hospitals fell by 1% from 77,600 to 76,800. The average number of patients per full-time nurse increased by almost 50% over this period, but staffing per available bed was little changed while occupied bed days per nurse fell by 6.5 per cent.'

Mr Harding said that the changes aligned with the increased patient throughput and shorter average lengths of stay characteristic of public hospitals over the period, and increased productivity by an older, more experienced and more highly trained workforce.

Other findings in the report include:

  • Victoria and South Australia had the highest number of employed nurses per 100,000 population in 1995-16% above the national average. New South Wales, Queensland, the ACT and the Northern Territory were 10% below the national average.
  • In 1995 there were 103,935 nurses employed in public hospitals, 28,496 nurses in private hospitals, 20,211 nurses working in private nursing homes and 15,758 nurses employed in public nursing homes.
  • Between 1993 and 1997 there was a 20% decrease in the number of employed enrolled nurses (minimum qualification a one-year diploma). This compared to a 0.9% drop in the number of employed registered nurses (minimum qualification a three-year degree).
  • 7.3% of employed nurses (16,000) in 1995 were men. In mental health nursing almost 35% of nurses (4000) were men-a higher proportion than in any other nursing field.
  • In 1995, 5,456 nurses were unemployed. An additional 2,447 nurses looking for nursing work were employed in other jobs.

6 November 1998


Further information: Warwick Conn, ph. 02 6244 1154.
For media copies of the report: Lena Searle, ph. 02 6244 1032.
Availability: Check the AIHW for details.