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Nurses are being forced to move outside Sydney due to skyrocketing housing prices risking the viability of key services to the city.

In the 10 years leading up to 2016, key areas in Sydney lost up to 20% of nurses, teachers, police and emergency service workers to outer and regional areas.

The University of Sydney’s Urban Housing Lab report last month warned that key workers were being driven out of metropolitan areas and living hours away from their workplaces.

The nature of nursing and other essential workers’ shift work together with long distances away from their workplaces with inadequate public transport meant 77.4% drove to work. Only 5% used public transport to get to work, compared with 12.7% of the general population.

The study is the first of its kind in Australia, providing detailed analysis of declining levels of housing affordability across greater and metropolitan Sydney for key workers: nurses, teachers, firefighters, police, ambulance drivers and paramedics.

The closest area to live for an entry level enrolled nurse was Cessnock in the Hunter Valley – about 150km from any hospital in Sydney’s city, a 300km round trip per day.

Between 2003 and 2016, the median price of established homes in Sydney more than doubled from $400,000 to around $900,000.

Soaring rents have heightened the crisis, making a 20% home loan deposit out of reach for many key workers. A single key worker would need 13 years to save for a deposit for a property in Sydney’s inner ring, at the 2016 median price of just over $1 million.

Clinical Nurse Educator Martin Gray left Sydney for Newcastle with his wife, also a nurse, and two children aged six and three last September. He worked for 15 years at the Prince of Wales Hospital in Sydney’s inner east.

“We have been looking for the past two years where we could move to outside of Sydney to live – around Queensland, Coffs Harbour and then Newcastle. I definitely would have stayed in Sydney if we could have bought there.”

Mr Gray commuted from Hurlston Park, in Sydney’s inner west to work at the Prince of Wales Hospital. “I was a classic example. I caught the 370 bus which goes everywhere, all the main spots but it stopped running after 10pm. That’s no good when you are working a late shift.”

Mr Gray said many staff commuted to work at the Prince of Wales for about two years and then left.

“Most people who work there are young people who have just qualified. You get a lot of graduate nurses who then move back to where they come from. I cannot see how the hospital can sustain its staffing – unless you’ve already bought in the area you can’t afford it.”

NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association Acting General Secretary Judith Kiejda said the union was very concerned about the increasing trend of nurses and midwives travelling considerable distances to and from work, due to the shortage of affordable housing. “This increases risks not only to their health, especially given shift-work requirements, but also places additional stress on family relationships.”