Mental health nursing workforce

In 2018, almost 1 in 15 (23,083 or 7.0%) 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 (85.2%) with a similar profile seen for the total nursing workforce (DoH 2020).

State and territory

There were 87.8 FTE mental health nurses per 100,000 population working in Australia in 2018, with state and territory rates ranging from 76.5 in the Australian Capital Territory to 102.2 in Western Australia (Figure WK.5). In terms of time spent as a clinician, there were 81.1 clinical FTE mental health nurses per 100,000 population at a national level, with state and territory rates ranging from 68.9 in the Australian Capital Territory to 94.3 in Western Australia.

 
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Description of figure WK.5 - Source data: Mental health workforce tables (489KB XLS)

Remoteness area

Three-quarters of FTE mental health nurses (76.5%) were employed in Major cities in 2018 (72.0% of the population lived in Major cities in 2018). Major cities had the highest rate of FTE mental health nurses (93.2 FTE per 100,000 population), followed by Inner regional (85.6), Remote (56.1), Outer regional (54.1) and Very remote (36.1) areas (Figure WK.6). This distribution was different from the overall nursing and midwifery workforce, with the highest rate of FTE nurses found in Very remote areas (1,357.1 per 100,000 population), followed by Remote (1,320.2), Major cities (1,183.6), Inner regional (1,151.4) and Outer regional (1,112.3) areas (DoH 2020).

 
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Description of figure WK.6 - Source data: Mental health workforce tables (489KB XLS)

Hours worked per week

In 2018, mental health nurses reported working an average of 36.1 total hours per week, with averages ranging from 34.6 hours per week in Tasmania to 38.8 hours in the Northern Territory. The average clinical hours worked per week reported by mental health nurses was 33.4 hours at the national level, ranging from 32.0 hours in Tasmania to 35.1 hours in the Northern Territory (Figure WK.7).

 
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Description of figure WK.7 - Source data: Mental health workforce tables (489KB XLS)

Mental health nurses employed in Remote (39.5 hours per week) and Very remote (39.3 hours per week) areas reported working the highest average total hours worked per week in 2018.

Mental health nurses employed in Remote areas also reported the highest average clinical hours worked per week(36.1 clinical hours per week), followed closely by those employed in Very remote areas (35.8 clinical hours per week).

Characteristics

About 3 in 5 mental health nurses (56.7%) were aged 45 and above in 2018; a third (32.1%) were aged 55 and older and 1 in 20 (5.9%) were aged 65 and over (Figure WK.8). The proportion of male nurses is nearly three times higher in the mental health nursing workforce when compared to the male proportion of all employed nurses and midwives in Australia (29.6% and 11.1%, respectively).

 
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Description of figure WK.8 - Source data: Mental health workforce tables (489KB  XLS)

Male mental health nurses worked more total and clinical hours per week on average than female nurses (males: 37.7 total hours and 34.7 clinical hours; females: 35.4 total hours and 32.8 clinical hours) in 2018.

In 2018, registered nurses worked an average of 36.5 hours per week while enrolled nurses worked an average of 34.2 hours per week. Registered nurses and enrolled nurses worked similar clinical hours of 33.4 and 33.3 average hours per week respectively.

Over time

The supply of mental health nurses increased by 4.0% from 2014 to 2018 (from 84.3 FTE per 100,000 population to 87.7). The proportion of female mental health nurses increased slightly over this period while the proportion of male nurses decreased slightly (the proportion of mental health nurses who were male was 31.4% in 2014 and 29.6% in 2018; the proportion of mental health nurses who were female was 68.6% in 2014 and 70.4% in 2018) (Figure WK.9).

 
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Description of figure WK.9 - Source data: Mental health workforce tables (489KB XLS)

The proportion of the mental health nurse workforce aged 55 and over increased from 31.5% in 2014 to 32.1% in 2018.

The average hours worked per week from 2014 to 2018 by mental health nurses declined slightly, for both registered nurses (36.8 to 36.5) and enrolled nurses (35.1 to 34.2).

Work characteristics

Most FTE mental health nurses (93.7%) reported their principal role at work to be a clinician, followed by administrator (3.4%) and teacher or educator (2.0%). The most common FTE mental health nurse work setting reported was hospitals (64.2%, excluding outpatient services), followed by community health care services (21.1%) and residential health care facilities (3.9%).