One in four nurses consider leaving primary care: survey

Monday, 13 November, 2023

One in four nurses consider leaving primary care: survey

One in four nurses working in primary health care (PHC) are considering leaving their role in the next two to five years, according to a workforce survey by the Australian Primary Health Care Nurse’s Association.

The survey, involving 4000 respondents, found that nearly one in ten (9.75%) are considering leaving their current job within the next 12 months, and three-quarters (74.2%) of primary health care nurses said they felt exhausted at work.

APNA President Karen Booth said this unrelenting pressure has created a crisis in meeting Australia’s primary health care 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 health care settings in coming years,” 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,” Booth said.

“If this was happening in big corporate business, there would be an outcry.”

Booth said the reasons for this vary from sector to sector. Aged care nurses feel overwhelmed by constant change and uncertainty over whether they will receive the 15% pay increase ordered by the Fair Work Commission and continued poor staffing levels. 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,” 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 health care 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 health care screening.”

Other findings of the APNA 2022 Workforce Survey include: three-quarters (74.5%) of primary health care nurses said they felt stressed at work; nearly three-quarters (72.1%) of primary health care nurses said they felt burnt out at work; two-thirds (66.4%) of primary health care nurses said they had an excessive workload; and two-thirds (66.3%) of primary health care nurses said they worked overtime.

“These figures also demonstrate the urgency behind efforts to establish sustainable recruitment and training pipelines to bring through Australia’s next generation of primary health care nurses to sustain the workforce,” Booth said.

Booth said that federal government initiatives such as the national Scope of Practice review, 6000 additional primary health care clinical placements, 1850 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 talk of reforming Medicare around a multidisciplinary model of care was welcome and would also go some way to alleviating this situation.

Booth called on the government to build on this progress by accelerating and committing to fund delivery of the Nursing Workforce Strategy.

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

Image credit: Lee

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