Nursing numbers continue to fall

National employment of nurses fell in 1999, according to preliminary figures released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The AIHW's Nursing Labour Force 1999 Preliminary Report also shows that more nurses are working part-time than previously.

The average quarterly employment of nurses fell from 201,300 in 1998 to 195,900 in 1999. Part-time employment increased from 42.9% to 44.1%.

Head of the AIHW's Labour Force Unit, John Harding, said that despite the overall fall in employment, the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) nurses working in public hospitals (78,300) was unchanged in 1998-99 compared with the previous year. This was however below the 1995-96 figure of 80,600 nurses.

In 1998-99, there was a 2.3% increase in patient admissions but a 1.7% decline in patient days in public hospitals.

Private hospital FTE employment increased from 24,567 in 1997-98 to 25,670 in 1998-99.

Mr Harding said that there was a small but steady increase in the registration board and employment numbers in all States and Territories except for Victoria and Tasmania.

In Victoria, nurse registrations and enrolments fell from 70,554 in 1998 to 68,923 in 1999, while in Tasmania the reduction was from 6,316 to 5,863.

This corresponds with a pattern of decline in the number of employed nurses per 100,000 population in both these States, from well above the national average a decade ago to just above the average in 1999.

Other findings in Nursing Labour Force 1999 Preliminary Report include:

  • Reported national shortages in December 1999 in several specialist fields of nursing practice-operating theatre, critical and intensive care, accident and emergency, aged care, mental health, and midwifery.
  • 7,388 students starting basic nurse training at Australian universities in 1999 - similar to the previous year. The number of students starting post-basic courses fell from 4,608 in 1998 to 4,267 in 1999. (Post-basic courses provide training in the specialist fields of nursing practice, where nurse shortages are most prevalent.)
  • 4,661 nurses completed basic nursing degrees in 1998, down from 4,753 in 1997. The number who completed post-basic courses in 1998 was 4,026, down from 4,591 in 1997.
  • The number of overseas-trained nurses migrating to Australia on temporary employment contracts increased from 276 in 1997-98 to 450 in 1998-99.


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