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  • Strategies For Ensuring Australian Hospitals Will Have Enough Nurses

    Author: Health Times

On a global basis, there is a shortage of qualified nurses that is likely to get worse. Australia, like other countries with ageing populations, has been vulnerable to this problem. Experts at the Department of Health in Australia are forecasting a shortfall of 85,000 nurses in the country’s healthcare facilities by the year 2025, and they expect it to worsen in the future beyond that.

Many state governments in Australia have taken steps to mitigate this crisis – but their efforts alone will not be enough to completely solve the problem. Let’s take a look at strategies for ensuring that Australia’s hospitals will have sufficient numbers of nurses to care for our population in the years ahead.

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A simplified overview of the solutions could be summarised as follows:

  • We need to properly educate and train sufficient numbers of new nurses;
  • We must ensure that the newly-trained nurses become gainfully employed in the profession and continue working there rather than leaving to assume other roles;
  • We have to make it an urgent priority to retain the experienced nurses who are already working in the profession; and
  • We need to encourage some of our experienced nurses to assume leadership roles within our hospitals and other healthcare facilities.
Nurse Retention

Training new nurses is futile if we can’t actually keep them employed in our hospitals.

In many Australian hospitals, nurses are overworked. In the past, they have been expected to care for more patients than is viable. This has contributed to a situation where nurses experience burnout and leave the profession at a high rate. reports that some Australian hospitals lose their nurses at rates of up to 30 percent each year.

According to the National Skills Commission’s 2022 Skills Priority List Key Findings Report, the latest available data indicated there have recently been 9,266 advertised vacancies for registered nurses.

Clearly, nurse retention is an urgent priority in Australia. This is the most critical key to solving the entire problem of nursing shortages.

In order to keep nurses from quitting their jobs, we need to understand why they quit – and to fix the underlying issues that cause them dissatisfaction in their jobs.

Reasons Nurses Quit Their Jobs

Many Australian nurses have stated that the working conditions in the country’s hospitals are unsustainable. Sizable numbers of them leave the profession due to burnout, stress and chronic lack of sleep.

Nurses are also vulnerable to suffering both verbal and physical abuse on the job. It is not uncommon for patients and their relatives to subject nurses to name calling, insults, swearing, shouting and threats. This is particularly a problem for emergency room nurses in hospitals where patients are subjected to long wait times and triage is an urgent necessity. Patients who are kept waiting are not easy to deal with, and they can subject nurses to unacceptable amounts of abuse.

What We’re Doing to Improve Working Conditions for Nurses – And What Still Needs to Be Done

Government officials across much of Australia have begun making an effort to improve working conditions for the country’s nurses. The governments in Victoria, Queensland and the ACT have designated mandatory nurse-to-patient ratios. Officials in South Australia and Western Australia also intend to implement nurse-to-patient ratios. So far it has proven to be challenging for hospitals to actually comply with these mandates, but they are making a serious effort to do so.

In NSW, management at public hospitals has implemented enforceable and minimum safe staffing levels.

Nursing Assistants

Hospitals can be more proactive about utilising the services of assistants in nursing. Nursing students are qualified to take on some of the hygiene care and other routine care that patients need. This can free up the registered nurses to handle more urgent priorities.

Increase Hospital Security to Prevent Emergency Room Violence

A two-part solution to emergency room violence is advisable. For starters, this behaviour would likely decrease significantly if wait times in emergency rooms were to decrease. There is no guarantee, however, that decreased wait times would completely solve the problem.

It would also be prudent to increase the levels of security at Australian hospitals to discourage violence against nurses and other hospital staff.

Show Appreciation for Nurses

Nurses largely feel underappreciated at work. One of the simplest yet most effective ways to keep them from quitting is to show appreciation for them. Hospital administrators must be proactive about praising, thanking and showing recognition for their nurses when it is warranted. This costs nothing, but it can do wonders for improving morale.

Encourage New Nurses to Enter the Profession

Even if the nurse attrition rate stabilises in the future, it will be necessary to continue recruiting and training new nurses on an ongoing basis to replace the ones who leave or retire.

Encourage Experienced Nurses to Assume Leadership Roles

Australia’s healthcare system cannot truly flourish if the country’s nurses are leaving the profession in droves. It also cannot sustain itself if the nurses who do continue in their roles are stagnating in their professional development. Nurses, like all other healthcare professionals, must be able to keep pace with the latest developments in research, technology and best practices that influence their delivery of patient care.

It would be to everyone’s benefit if experienced nurses could be encouraged to further their education and assume leadership roles within the healthcare facilities where they are employed. We need to encourage more nurses to pursue graduate studies that will qualify them to become administrators and leaders. In Australia, a registered nurse who successfully completes a master of nursing online is considered qualified to become a nurse unit manager, director of nursing or executive director of nursing – all of which are important leadership roles within Australia’s healthcare system.

Beyond that, the activists at Aged Care Reform Now are hoping to see an increase in the number of nurse practitioners working in the aged care sector. They believe that nurse practitioners have a critical role to play in providing mentorship and clinical leadership to other healthcare professionals. Furthermore, since Nurse Practitioners have limited medication prescribing rights, they anticipate that nurse practitioners offer us a practical solution for dealing with GP shortages in rural areas.

The shortage of GPs and physicians in Australia isn’t actually limited to rural areas. The country would greatly benefit if well-educated Nurse Practitioners were available to step up and fill in the gaps.
Clearly, we need to be proactive about investing in nursing leadership and professional development in Australia as an integral part of our efforts to solve the nursing shortage.

The above solutions, if implemented consistently and systematically, would go a long way towards putting an end to the hospital staffing crisis in Australia.

Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash


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