South Australia’s nurses and midwives are experiencing record levels of fatigue and burnout due to widespread workforce shortages and the mounting challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic, a new survey from the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (SA Branch) has revealed.
More than 3,000 members took part in the six-week survey, conducted during May and June earlier this year.
Results show 70% of SA nurses and midwives reported working unpaid overtime through the period, with 25% working double shifts.
Worryingly, more than half of respondents said they plan to leave the professions within the next five years (56.1%).
Meanwhile, the survey found depersonalisation is worsening. It was highest among those who had worked double shifts; were aged under 30; had one to 10 years’ professional experience; and were planning to leave their role during the next year.
ANMF (SA Branch) CEO/Secretary Adj Associate Professor Elizabeth Dabars said the pattern of data indicates the state is facing a “generational loss” of younger nurses and midwives due to unrealistic pressures placed upon them by the system to work in demanding environments that cause fatigue.
“We have grave concerns for workforce capacity in the future which is intrinsically linked to burnout and fatigue as evidenced in the survey results,’’ she said.
In 2014, Ms Dabars said Health Workforce Australia projected a shortfall of about 85,000 nurses/ midwives by 2025, and 123,000 nurses/ midwives by 2030.
Yet, she argues no active work is currently being undertaken to build the future nursing and midwifery workforce up to the numbers and required skill levels that the community needs.
“Much of the fatigue being experienced now has arisen from shortages in the workforce, not due to COVID alone but through health system managers and governments being asleep at the wheel, Ms Dabars said.
“Less than half of graduates from our universities are able to enter into graduate programs (Transition to Professional Practice Programs) within the public health system, meaning that we run the risk of losing them to interstate or overseas employment.
“We have clear shortages in areas such as mental health, critical care, emergency nursing, peri-operative care and midwifery. Country areas have the additional disadvantage of trying to recruit in these areas of shortage with few additional incentives to offer.”
The union has sent the results of the survey to the CEOs of SA Health and all local health networks, urging them to take action.
“The chronic issue of fatigue and burnout amongst nurses and midwives has never been in such urgent need of redress as it is right now,’’ Ms Dabars said.
“If the State Government yet again fails to act on these significant survey results, then we are most certainly facing a major health crisis in the very near future.”