Mental health nursing workforce

In 2017, about 1 in 15 (22,159 or 6.9%) nurses (including both registered and enrolled nurses) employed in Australia indicated they were working principally in mental health. Over 4 in 5 of these were registered nurses (85.5%) with a similar profile seen for the total nursing workforce.

State and territory

There were 85.8 FTE mental health nurses per 100,000 population working in Australia in 2017, with rates ranging from 75.9 in the Australian Capital Territory to 96.7 in Western Australia (Figure WK.5). In terms of time spent as a clinician, there were 79.0 clinical FTE mental health nurses per 100,000 population at a national level, ranging from 69.3 in the Australian Capital Territory to 89.5 in Western Australia.

 

Figure WK.5 Alternative text - Source data: Mental health workforce tables (1.4MB XLS)

Remoteness area

Three-quarters of FTE mental health nurses (76.2%) were employed in Major cities in 2017 (71.8% of the population lived in Major cities in 2017). Major cities had the highest rate of FTE mental health nurses (91.0 FTE per 100,000 population), followed by Inner regional (84.3), Remote (56.9), Outer regional (52.7) and Very remote (36.3) areas (Figure WK.6). This distribution was different from the overall nursing workforce, with the highest rate of FTE nurses found in Very Remote areas (1,339.8 per 100,000 population), followed by Remote (1,281.6), Major Cities (1,164.9), Inner Regional (1,130.5) and Outer Regional (1,085.0) areas.

 

Figure WK.6 Alternative text - Source data: Mental health workforce tables (1.4MB XLS)

Hours worked per week

In 2017, mental health nurses reported working an average of 36.2 total hours per week, with averages ranging from 35.0 hours per week in Tasmania to 39.2 hours in the Northern Territory. The average clinical hours worked per week reported by mental health nurses was 33.3 hours at the national level, ranging from 32.6 hours in South Australia to 34.8 hours in the Northern Territory (Figure WK. 7).

 

Figure WK.7 Alternative text - Source data: Mental health workforce tables (1.4MB XLS)

Mental health nurses employed in Very remote (39.5 hours) and Remote (39.4 hours) areas reported working the highest average number of total hours per week in 2017. Mental health nurses employed in Remote areas also reported working the most clinical hours on average (36.0 clinical hours), followed closely by those employed in Very Remote areas (35.8 clinical hours).

Characteristics

About 3 in 5 mental health nurses (58.1%) were aged 45 and above in 2017; a third (32.7%) were aged 55 and older and 1 in 20 (5.6%) were aged 65 and over (Figure WK.8). The proportion of male nurses is about three times higher in the mental health nursing workforce when compared to the male proportion of all employed nurses in Australia (30.2% and 11.0%, respectively).

 

Figure WK.8 Alternative text - Source data: Mental health workforce tables (1.4MB XLS)

Male mental health nurses worked more total and clinical hours per week on average than female nurses (males 37.8 total hours and 34.8 clinical hours; females 35.5 total hours and 32.7 clinical hours) in 2017. Registered nurses worked more total hours on average than enrolled nurses (36.4 and 34.7 hours respectively) but slightly less clinical hours (33.2 and 33.7 respectively).

Over time

There was an increase between 2013 and 2017 in the supply of mental health nurses, from 83.6 to 85.8 FTE per 100,000 population. The proportion of male and female mental health nurses remained relatively stable over this period (the proportion of mental health nurses who were male was 31.7% in 2013 and 30.2% in 2017) (Figure WK.9). The proportion of registered nurses also remained stable at around 85% over the same period.

 

Figure WK.9 Alternative text - Source data: Mental health workforce tables (1.4MB XLS)

The proportion of the mental health nurse workforce aged 55 and over increased from 29.9% in 2013 to 32.7% in 2017.

The average hours worked per week between 2013 and 2017 by mental health nurses declined slightly for registered nurses (36.9 to 36.4) and enrolled nurses (35.0 to 34.7).

Work characteristics

Most FTE mental health nurses (93.7%) reported their principal area of work to be a clinician, followed by administrator (3.1%) and teacher or educator (2.2%). The most common work setting reported was hospitals (64.2%, excluding outpatient services), followed by community health care services (21.0%) and residential health care facilities (4.5%).