One in four Primary Health Care nurses plans to quit

Media Release    17 February 2022


More than a quarter of all Primary Health Care (PHC) nurses in Australia say they are planning to leave their job, according to new national data. 

As a result, Australia is at risk of not having enough suitably-trained PHC nurses to staff aged care homes, general practices, and other primary health care settings in coming years. 

The survey of 1061 PHC nurses by the Australian Primary Health Care Nurses Association (APNA) found that: 

  • More than four in five (80.4%) primary health care nurses said they felt exhausted at work 

  • More than four in five (86.7%) primary health care nurses said they felt stressed at work  

  • More than three quarters (78.8%) of primary health care nurses said they felt burnt out at work 

  • Nearly three quarters (72.9%) of primary health care nurses said they worked too much 

  • More than three quarters (76.4%) of primary health care nurses said they worked overtime 

  • More than one in four (28.73%) primary health care nurses are planning to leave their current job within the next two-five years  

 

After spending two exhausting years helping patients and those they care for manage the impact of COVID-19, nurses in aged care homes, general practices, schools, and correctional facilities are chronically shorthanded. Thousands of PHC nurses have themselves contracted COVID or are furloughing following contact with the virus.  

There is a solution. 

Bringing nursing students into primary health care settings to carry out supervised activities has the potential to help release the pressure on PHC nurses, whilst enriching the student's skillset, and establishing a pipeline of new, skilled, and experienced PHC nurses for the future. 

The COVID pandemic has left many thousands of nursing students at risk of being unable to graduate due to clinical staff shortages, preventing them having the clinical placements required to graduate.  

If not urgently addressed, this increasing backlog of nursing students will mean Australia will not have enough trained PHC nurses to staff aged care homes, general practices, and other primary health care settings in coming years. 

However, an innovative APNA-run nursing student placement program is allowing nursing students to play a vital role in the COVID response while simultaneously accruing their essential clinical placement time.  Under the supervision of experienced primary health care nurses, it is hoped that the program will also help secure a pipeline of well-trained and highly experienced PHC nurses for decades to come. 

Universities and TAFEs have traditionally found it difficult to place students in primary health care settings, However, this APNA program makes it easier, meaning students are less-reliant on hospital-based placements. 

There are already 118 Victorian and 19 interstate organisations registered with APNA's student nurse placement program. Building this program so that it can be coordinated nationally would provide a workforce pipeline of motivated and skilled nurses who could help alleviate the staffing crisis in aged care homes, general practice, and other primary health care settings across the country. 

Placing more student nurses in primary health care settings to carry out supervised learning and skills training would also support higher rates of screening for chronic disease which is forecast to increase due to COVID-19.  

APNA looks forward to working with governments, health departments, and universities and TAFEs across the country to ensure Australia has a large-enough workforce of PHC nurses to meet future needs for decades to come. 

 <ends> 

 

QUOTES FROM KAREN BOOTH, APNA PRESIDENT  

“Primary health care nurses have performed almost superhuman efforts to keep the community as safe as possible from the COVID pandemic. But while health authorities recruited extra staff and provided extra resources to help with hospital admissions, they forgot the primary health care sector.  

“Primary health care nurses work in general practice, in our schools, in community or correctional health, in rural and remote areas without a hospital, and in the resource-stretched aged care sector. These health care professionals have been left wondering -- where is their back up, their extra resourcing? 

“The latest moves to bring forward booster shots and end COVID restrictions were the final straw. This has severely impacted the primary health care nurse workforce, with thousands of sick nurses furloughing, leaving an intolerable workload on those nurses who remain. 

“Our primary health care nurses desperately need help, and nursing students - many thousands of whom find themselves unable to get the clinical placement experience they need - are a ready-made solution.  

“Nursing students can be utilised in primary health care to triage patients, help with health checks, and help registered nurses with vaccine clinics and other clinical activities.  

“More importantly, supervised student nurses, using approved scripted checklists, could do welfare calls to people at home who are sick with COVID, and escalate treatment to registered nurses or general practitioners as needed. 

"What better way can there be to build the skill-set and professional capability of student nurses, and strengthen capacity in primary health care services, than to actively involve them in the greatest health challenge of recent times?” 

 

QUOTES FROM MAREE LANSDOWNE, STUDENT NURSE SUPERVISOR, BREED STREET CLINIC, TRARALGON 

“COVID has overwhelmed our clinic - we have been incredibly swamped by patients. Nurses are the ones in the front line who deal with people seeking help when they are confused about COVID vaccines and boosters and when the rules change.  

“It is great experience for students such as Irene to be in this situation to see how we cope under such duress and how important it is to work together for the same thing to the same end for the same outcome. She will remember our learning experience forever.”  

 

QUOTES FROM IRENE THORSON, 2ND-YEAR MONASH UNIVERSITY NURSING /MIDWIFERY STUDENT  

"I really enjoyed the student nursing placement, more than I expected to. I learned so much. Being in there and learning the practical things freed up the nurses to handle more of the responsibilities they had. 

“I was given quite a bit of responsibility and trust – I helped with patient screening, health histories, blood pressure monitors, ECGs – the things that take time. 

“You go in expecting to being thrown in the deep end, but when I actually got in there, I understood just how important primary health care nurses are. The nurses deal with a lot of normal responsibilities such as health screenings and wounds, as well as being overrun with COVID vaccinations. That's a whole new job for them but they don’t have any extra staff to do it.” 

<ENDS> 

 

*ACCORDING TO APNA’S AUGUST 2021 PULSECHECK SURVEY: 

  • Almost half of PHC nurses were undertaking less chronic disease and healthy ageing management activity in August 2021 compared to May 2021 

  • Almost half of PHC nurses were undertaking less preventative health and screening activities in August compared to May 2021 

 

Media enquiries: Nick Buchan, nick.buchan@apna.asn.au, 03 9322 9540 

The Australian Primary Health Care Association acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of country throughout Australia and their connections to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to elders past and present and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples today.


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