Introduction by Croakey: The Australian College of Nursing (ACN) today launched a #ProtectNurses campaign demanding a zero-tolerance approach to all forms of violence experienced by the nursing profession.
The campaign coincides with the United Nations Women’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, noting that almost 90 percent of nurses are women.
Strategies to tackle occupational violence and burnout are among a range of measures needed to address nursing workforce shortages, according to the CEO of the ACN, Adjunct Professor Kylie Ward.
Kylie Ward writes:
Mandated nurse ratios in aged care facilities will be ineffective unless they are backed up with education, training and other workforce measures to address the critical shortage of nurses in Australia.
The Australian College of Nursing (ACN) welcomes the passage of the Aged Care Amendment (Implementing Care Reform) Bill 2022 through the Senate and the bi-partisan support from federal parliament for measures to improve the quality of care in aged care facilities.
In particular, ACN welcomes the introduction of mandatory care times and the requirement that residential aged care facilities have a Registered Nurse on site 24/7, supported by a commitment of $2.5 billion (over four years) in the Federal Budget.
However, ACN is concerned that these mandates will not achieve their stated aims unless urgent action is taken to address nursing workforce shortages across the spectrum of the health system.
Nursing shortages are not new but over the past two years they have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic which has increased burnout and exhaustion among the profession, while also restricting Australia’s ability to recruit nurses from overseas.
A recent report from McKinsey and Company found that one-fifth of Australia’s registered nurses say they intend to leave their current role in the next 12 months and 41 per cent of say they are planning to move countries or leave direct-care roles entirely. McKinsey’s analysis of this data predicts that by 2025, anywhere from 20,000 to 40,000 nursing positions in Australia could be left unfilled.
These findings are supported by the recent annual skills priority list from the National Skills Commission which provides a detailed view of shortages and future demand for occupations in Australia. The 2022 Skills Priority List showed shortages across all registered nurse occupations and predicted strong demand for almost all nursing roles in the future. This highlights the urgent need to increase our investment in nursing skills and training as well as measures to retain our existing nursing workforce.
ACN is deeply concerned that unless urgent action is taken to address issues of recruitment and retention, as well as tackling the systems issues that inhibit nurses to give the care they are trained to give and feel satisfied in their work, like being able to work to the top of scope in all settings, it will be impossible for the legislated nursing mandates to be achieved.
This needs to occur in close consultation with the nursing profession which has the experience and connections on the ground with nurses, and nursing managers, to know what strategies will be most effective in removing barriers to attracting the newly required workforce, as well as retaining the existing valued workforce.
Meeting these quotas will take some time and facilities and employers need to understand the point of difference that will help them attract the right calibre of Registered Nurse who wants to work in gerontological care.
ACN has developed a number of proposals for strengthening our nursing workforce and addressing both short and long-term workforce shortages.
- measures to address burnout and exhaustion among the nursing profession, in particular to combat the rising rates of occupational violence nurses are experiencing in their workplaces
- scholarships and HECS waivers for undergraduate nursing places to support the development of the next generation of Australian nurses
- funding for Registered Nurses working in aged care facilities to undertake a Graduate Certificate in Aged Care to provide them with the clinical expertise, leadership, and management experience needed to provide safe, effective, and high-quality person-centred care to residents.
- refresher courses for retired Registered Nurses and Enrolled Nurses, as well as non-clinically active registered nurses, so they can supplement the workforce across Australia.
- support and resources for Executive Directors, Directors of Nursing, and other Nursing Managers of wards, units and facilities to effectively manage their teams of burnt out and exhausted staff with innovative and appropriate models of care.
- increased access to right to work VISAs for overseas trained eligible Registered Nurses to increase the capacity, diversity and quality of Australia’s nursing workforce, in a holistic and ethical approach.
To underpin the above strategies we need incentives and the proper funding of education institutions to run nursing courses. Currently, the shortage of nursing educators limits the number of students a program can accept or send on clinical placement, which restricts our ability to address the nursing shortage.
Along with the above measures, it is vital that governments undertake long-term nursing workforce planning, in conjunction with nursing leaders and peak bodies, to ensure our health and aged care systems are able to meet the future needs of the Australian community.
This needs to involve a commitment to significantly growing the nursing workforce and requires a collaborative approach across jurisdictions to avoid state and territory governments engaging in “bidding wars” to compete for an inadequate supply of nurses.
Educating, training and upskilling nurses takes time and we cannot wait until we are experiencing critical workforce shortages to address the shortfall in undergraduate and post-graduate training places and to implement strategies to attract retired and former nurses back into the workforce.
ACN is calling on all Australian governments to commit to working with nursing leaders and peak bodies on a comprehensive nursing workforce strategy to support and encourage existing nurses, inspire the next generation, and strengthen our future nursing workforce to meet Australia’s longer term health and aged care needs.
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