One in four primary healthcare nurses considering leaving the sector

Primary health care

Three-quarter of nurses working in primary healthcare (PHC) feel stressed and burnt out at work, while one in four nurses are contemplating leaving their job within the next two to five years, a new survey has revealed.

Results of the Australian Primary Health Care Nurses Associations’ (APNA) 2022 Workforce Survey, which heard from 4,000 nurses, demonstrates the urgent need to boost efforts to retain experienced staff and establish sustainable recruitment and training pipelines, the organisation argues.

The survey found:

  • More than one in four (26.2%) primary healthcare nurses are considering leaving their current job within the next two-five years.
  • Nearly one in 10 (9.75%) primary healthcare nurses are considering leaving their current job within the next twelve months.
  • Three quarters (74.2%) of primary healthcare nurses said they felt exhausted at work.
  • Three quarters (74.5%) of primary healthcare nurses said they felt stressed at work.
  • Nearly three quarters (72.1%) of primary healthcare nurses said they felt burnt out at work.
  • Two thirds (66.4%) of primary healthcare nurses said they had an excessive workload.

APNA President Karen Booth said the unrelenting pressures faced by PHC nurses has created a crisis in meeting Australia’s primary healthcare needs.

“Australia is at risk of not having enough suitably trained primary health care nurses to staff aged care homes, general practices, and other primary healthcare settings in coming years,” Ms Booth said.

“This loss of nursing skills represents a significant lost opportunity for the Australian health system, employers, and patients.”

“We are not only talking about a loss of workforce investment here, but we are also talking about the loss of corporate knowledge that we would normally expect would train and support the new workforce entrants— that is, renewal of the workforce.”

Ms Booth said the reasons for increasing pressures vary from sector to sector. For example, nurses in general practice are poorly utilised, while Nurse Practitioners are restricted from using the additional skills they have learned through their advanced training and experience.

“Primary health nurses are one of the most affordable and effective ways of keeping patients with chronic health conditions as healthy as they can be, well managed and out of hospital,” Ms Booth said.

“Patients deserve to receive treatment and education from nurses who are well-resourced and aren’t run off their feet with too much else to do.

“We can’t afford to have highly skilled, experienced and motivated primary healthcare nurses leaving the profession when there is so much work to be done to keep people well and out of hospital, including cardiovascular education and management, vaccinations, wound care and primary healthcare screening.” 

Ms Booth said that Albanese Government initiatives such as the national Scope of Practice review, 6,000 additional primary health care clinical placements, 1,850 graduate Nurse Practitioner scholarships, and incentives to get PHC nurses back into the workforce would make a difference to PHC nurse retention. She added that the Government’s intentions of reforming Medicare around a multidisciplinary model of care would also help alleviate the situation.

She called on the Government to build on progress by accelerating and committing to fund delivery of the Nursing Workforce Strategy.

“Now is the time for a call to arms for nurses to help inform the future direction of our workforce,” Ms Booth said. 

“Decision-makers in state, territory, and federal governments and health departments can make a real difference to primary healthcare nurses by ensuring they are highly visible in health policy development and that the collective voice of primary healthcare nursing continues to be heard in all future reviews.”

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