Nursing numbers falling

The number of full-time equivalent nurses in Australia per 100,000 population has fallen 11.8% during the last decade, according to Nursing Labour Force 1998, a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

Head of the AIHW's Labour Force Unit, John Harding, said that, in absolute numbers, the nurse clinician workforce of 197,700 in 1998 was almost the same as the 197,100 employed in 1989. However, the proportion working part-time increased from 39.2% to 44.0% and population growth during this period was 11.5%.

'One of the main reasons for this was that public hospitals and public and private nursing homes were the main employers of nurses and nursing staff numbers in these have fallen,' he said.

Nursing Labour Force 1998 shows that between 1995-96 and 1997-98, patient numbers in public hospitals increased by 5.0% at the same time as the number of full-time equivalent nurses decreased by 2.9% from 80,570 to 78,239. In public nursing homes, nurse employment fell from 22,200 in 1993 to 15,900 in 1996, and in private nursing homes employment fell from 20,600 to 18,100 during the same period.

The report shows a major change in the age profile of Australia's nursing labour force. At the 1986 census, 23.3% of nurses were aged less than 25 years, and 17.5% aged 45 years or more. By 1996, the proportion aged under 25 years had reduced to 9.9%, while the proportion of those aged 45 years or more increased to 28.6%. Between 1993 and 1998 the average age of students starting undergraduate nursing degrees had increased from 21.8 to 24.5 years.

Other findings in the report include:

  • Western Australia and Victoria had the highest number of employed nurses per 100,000 population in 1996 with 1,236 and 1,178 respectively-more than 10% above the national average of 1,064. New South Wales (962) and Queensland (984) were more than 7% below the national average.
  • The number of nurses employed in rural centres per head of population is well above that of capital cities. In 1996, there were 1,183 employed nurses per 100,000 population in capital cities but 1,705 nurses per 100,000 population working in large rural centres, 1,363 in small rural centres, and 1,220 in remote centres.
  • In December 1998, according to the Department of Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business, there were nation-wide shortages in several areas of nursing-operating theatre, critical and intensive care, accident and emergency, cardiothoracic, neonatal intensive care, midwifery and mental health.
  • In 1996, there were 3,500 Australian nurses overseas and 9,100 nurses employed in jobs outside nursing.

13 September 1999


Further information: Mr Warwick Conn, ph. 02 6244 1154 (bh) and 02 6258 3547 (ah).
For media copies of the report: Publications Officer, ph. 02 6244 1032.
Availability: Check the AIHW for details.