Nurse numbers flat, workload rising

The number of employed nurses in Australia in 1999 was 221,988, according to the latest figures released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). This compares with 225,110 in 1994 and 222,211 in 1997.

Head of the AIHW's Labour Force and Rural Health Unit, Glenice Taylor, noted that their workload had risen over recent years. 'In Australia's public and private acute and psychiatric hospitals, the number of separations per full-time equivalent (FTE) nurse increased from 50.1 in 1995-96 to 53.3 in 1998-99', she said.

Over the decade to 1999 there was a substantial fall in the percentage of (mostly TAFE-trained) enrolled nurses in the total nursing workforce (from 24.0% down to 14.5%) compared with degree-qualified registered nurses.

Nursing Labour Force 1999 also shows that over the decade nursing numbers per 100,000 population had fallen in all States and Territories, with the greatest falls occurring in Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania, and the Northern Territory.

For Victoria and South Australia, their larger falls could mostly be attributed to declines in their relatively high proportions of enrolled nurses over the period.

Ms Taylor said that, as with many other health occupations, the nursing work force was getting older, but of 'potentially more concern' was that the number of new entrants was likely to decline over the next few years.

'In 1994, the average age of nurses was 39.1 years-this has now shifted to 40.4 years in 1997,' Ms Taylor said. 'Meanwhile, Australian students completing basic nursing courses fell by 20% between 1994 and 1998.'

'Information from the Department of Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business shows that there are Australia-wide shortages in most registered nurse occupations.'

Part-time nursing employment increased from 48.6% to 51.8% between 1994 and 1997, resulting in a fall in the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) nurses-from 104,200 in 1995-96 to 102,200 in 1996-97.

'By 1998-99, however, this number had increased back to over 104,000,' Ms Taylor said.

Other findings in Nursing Labour Force 1999 include:

  • Between 1994 and 1997, the proportion of registered nurses working outside the capital cities fell from 39% to 37%, while the proportion of enrolled nurses working outside the capital cities remained the same (50%).
  • There were small increases in the proportions of registered and enrolled male nurses between 1994 and 1997.



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