What is the State of the Nursing Shortage in Australia?

What is the State of the Nursing Shortage in Australia?

Carolyn Cumper

Carolyn Cumper

Published in MedShop Blog

0 min read

July 31, 2022

Nurses are the backbone of the Australian healthcare system. In 2020, there were 450,000 registered nurses and midwives in Australia. That’s more than 4 times the number of doctors and makes nurses the largest clinical workforce in the country.

 The Covid-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of having well-trained, dedicated nurses in healthcare. Nurses, doctors and other healthcare professionals worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic to care for Australians and help minimise the effects of the virus.

 This makes it all the more worrying that Australia is currently experiencing a major nursing shortage. A recent report revealed that the average 2022 vacancy rate for registered nurses is 17%. That’s a significant 7.1 points higher than 2021. This huge fall in the number of nurses is likely to have a direct impact on patient care and patient outcomes. It will also lead to substantial increases in staffing costs as hospitals try to plug the gap with overtime and temporary staff.


Why is There a Nursing Shortage in Australia?

The nursing shortage in Australia has been getting worse for a number of years now. It has been driven by a number of factors including a lack of funding, an ageing population and increased competition for nurses from overseas.

The Australian Medical Association has warned that the current hospital funding crisis is putting patients at risk and jeopardising the future of the healthcare system. This in turn is placing added pressure on nurses, making an already difficult job even harder.

Of the issues currently affecting the Australia nursing shortage, one of the most important – and hard to solve - is the country’s rapidly ageing population. In the 20 years from 2000 to 2020, the proportion of the population aged 65 years or over increased from 12.4% to 16.3%. The change in the number of people aged over 85 years old or over was even more dramatic, with the percentage increasing by 110% over the two decades. That’s compared to the total population growth of just 35%.

This ageing population affects the nursing shortage in two ways. Firstly, it decreases the percentage of working-age people in the employment pool, reducing the number of people available to train as nurses. Secondly, it increases the demand placed on the healthcare system as elderly people tend to have more complex medical needs. This in turn means that more nurses are required to meet the country’s healthcare requirements.

Another factor affecting the nursing shortage is diversification. Nurses are now being asked to cover a wider variety of roles than ever before. From administering vaccines to dealing with mental health issues, our nursing workforce is being stretched to its very limits.

How Bad is the Nursing Shortage in Australia?

The nursing shortage in Australia is getting worse every year. According to a recent report that focused on the future of nursing in Australia, the government expects there to be a shortfall of around 85,000 nurses by 2025. By 2030, the figure is expected to be even worse, with a shortage of 123,000 nurses.

However, these figures may be seriously affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. The stress of the pandemic, and the trauma experienced by many healthcare professionals, has caused up to a fifth of essential workers (including nurses) in Australia to consider leaving their jobs. This mass exodus could have a serious impact on the nursing shortage Australia is already experiencing.


Why are Nurses Leaving Their Jobs?

Some of the most common factors causing nurses to leave their jobs are:


  • Stress
  • Exhaustion
  • Burn out
  • Overwork

 Stress is one of the main reasons that nurses are leaving their jobs. A survey carried out by the Australian Primary Health Care Nurses Association (APNA) found that more than four out of five (86.7%) of primary healthcare nurses said they felt stressed at work. The same survey revealed that 80.4% of nurses felt exhausted, while 78.8% said they felt burnt out.

Of the nurses surveyed, 72.9% said they worked too much, with 76.4% of those that took part in the research working overtime. Most shocking of all, of the primary care nurses that responded to the APNA survey, over one in four (28.73%) were planning to leave their job within the next two to five years.

A lot of the issues affecting nurses have been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic during which nurses around the country were asked to work long hours and put their own health at risk to care for their patients. Nurses have been required to go above and beyond at every stage of the pandemic.

This extreme workload has taken a significant toll on both the physical and mental health of our nurses. As we’ve seen, stress, exhaustion and burnout are all now commonplace, putting nurses under pressure and making the profession even more challenging.


Are More Nurses Being Trained?

The good news is that more nurses and midwives are being trained to help plug the gaps and reduce the nursing shortage. According to the 2019 Nursing and Midwifery Factsheet, the number of nursing graduates is increasing at five times the rate of the population and the nursing and midwifery workforce is increasing at almost two times the rate of the population.

However, with stress and burnout causing more and more nurses to leave the profession, experts are still predicting a serious shortfall in the number of nurses working in the country. Job vacancies in the healthcare and social assistance industry increased significantly from 8.2% in February 2020 to 21.2% in August 2021. This indicates that more people are leaving the profession than are joining it and could point to even more serious shortages in the future.


Bringing Nurses in from Overseas

Another way to address the nursing shortage is to bring in qualified nurses, and trainees, from overseas. In 2019, around 37.6% of the nurses working in Australia were born outside the country. That was up from 35.5% in 2016, 33% in 2011 and just 25% in 2001. Most of these nurses come from Southeast Asia, the UK and Ireland.

If this trend continues, the number of foreign-born nurses working in Australia will increase year on year, helping to reinforce the country’s healthcare workforce. This could have a significant impact on the current nursing shortage and help to ensure everyone living in Australia has access to the care they need.   

One of the challenges of relying on nurses from overseas is that they’re in high demand globally. A lot of countries around the world have a shortage of nurses, with many wealthy countries depending on foreign-born nurses to plug the gaps. As well as making it difficult to fill vacancies, the global nursing shortage means large numbers of nurses are leaving developing countries to move to richer ones, putting added pressure on already fragile health systems.


Supporting Student Nurses

To secure the future of nursing in Australia, it's essential to train more nurses and midwives. Alongside our specialist range of nursing supplies and student kits, we offer a selection of nursing scrubs, designed to meet the needs of aspiring healthcare professionals. These scrubs, alongside our tools and resources, are affordable, reliable, and tailored to support the rigorous demands of nursing training. With these high-quality products, student nurses can embark on their careers with confidence, fully equipped for both practical and theoretical aspects of their education.


To find out more about nursing in Australia, or to explore our collection of high quality medical supplies, take a look around or get in touch with a member of our team today.

Author: Carolyn Cumper's career spans from being a Patrol Officer in Rhodesia to a Paediatric Nurse in the UK, and later a Deputy Hospice Manager in Australia. Her diverse journey includes roles in law enforcement, healthcare, and business, culminating in her significant contributions to Medshop.

newsletter background

Join Our Newsletter

Exclusive discounts & promotions.