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|Exodus of Nurses Hit Australia as 20,000 Nurses give Up their Licenses by Peculiar005: Fri Nov 2021 05:38pm|
Australian hospitals are experiencing a mass exodus of experienced critical care nurses as the COVID-19 pandemic stretches healthcare workers unlike ever before, prompting medical colleges to warn of a workforce crisis.
Australian College of Critical Care Nurses chief executive Rand Butcher said in the last year, critical care nurses were “leaving in droves”. He said those nurses had undergone specialised postgraduate training to work in high-pressure intensive care units and were essential in caring for COVID-19 patients.
“There has been a mass exodus,” Mr Butcher said.
“They are not taking sick leave or annual leave, they are working extra hours, and at the end of all this we are seeing lots of senior people, who have worked in intensive care for years, leaving intensive care units at a time when they are so valued, and we need them so much.”
Australian College of Nursing chief executive Kylie Ward said roughly 20,000 nurses had given up their registration this year, a number that had shocked her during a global pandemic.
“It spoke to the psyche of where nurses were at in Australia,” Adjunct Professor Ward said.
She said the nursing shortage was widespread, but particularly severe in aged care, maternity wards, mental health and critical care.
But despite the number of nurses working in Australia growing each year, Professor Ward estimated there were roughly 12,200 vacant nursing positions, and she said some hospital wards were forced to close temporarily when they had been unable to fill shifts.
The College of Critical Care Nurses is crunching data to determine why critical care nurses were leaving, but Mr Butcher said the shortage was exacerbated by nurses being redeployed to COVID-19 vaccination hubs to boost immunisation efforts.
Other critical care nurses were opting to retire early, choosing to move to another area of nursing due to prolonged stress and burnout, or leaving the industry entirely.
The college’s Victorian president, Rose Jaspers said while burnout was a concern before the pandemic, “COVID-19 has been the straw that broke the camel’s back”.
“We have a workforce which had not had a break for two years,” the former ICU nurse said.
“On top of that, their working conditions every day are extreme and challenging. They’re working phenomenal amounts of overtime, double shifts and extra shifts.”
Ms Jaspers said hospitals across Victoria were struggling to fill their rosters. She noted that although the number of new coronavirus admissions into ICU was falling in Victoria, nurses were still caring for dozens of coronavirus patients who were lingering in ICUs for up to 12 weeks, including some of the most gravely ill.
Ms Jaspers said she was “extremely concerned” about the workforce in the coming months. With elective surgery resuming, some theatre nurses who were deployed to ICU units to help care for COVID-19 patients would need to return to their normal duties, she said.
Adjunct Professor Ward said while it was estimated 20,000 nurses would graduate from university at the end of the year, “you cannot replace the nurses giving up their registration with 20,000 first-year graduates, who need full support in understanding the system”.
Adjunct Professor Ward said Australia needed to do better to support and retain graduates.
Mr Butcher said COVID-19 had taken a heavy emotional toll on healthcare workers, many developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and anxiety at exponential rates compared to before the pandemic.
A recent survey by Monash University and Royal Melbourne Hospital of more than 7800 Australian healthcare workers (most of them based in Victoria) found more than 40 per cent had symptoms of PTSD by the final stages of the state’s second wave.
This meant they may have been easily startled or had trouble sleeping, continually recurring thoughts or felt irritable.
Of concern, one of the significant predictors of PTSD, along with emotional exhaustion and burnout, was if healthcare workers worried their patients would not receive the appropriate level of care because of a shortage of resources – an issue that continues to be the heart of the debate on Australia’s response to the pandemic.
“Nurses like to look after people, and when they are forced to lower their standards of care it really, really eats at away at them,” Mr Butcher said.
Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation state secretary Lisa Fitzpatrick said it was not just critical care units battling staffing shortages.
“There are pockets of pressure spread out across the workforce,” she said. “We have a very tired workforce, not just in critical care, but in maternity services too. This has been going on for two years.”
She said some health services were heavily reliant on midwives doing double shifts because demand had increased in maternity wards triggered by a baby boom in Victoria during the pandemic.
Ms Jaspers said more needed to be done to entice graduate nurses into critical care, but the postgraduate program was too costly for many.
A Graduate Certificate in Critical Care Nursing at the University of Melbourne costs about $11,000 and will rise by $336 next year. However, those nurses will be paid just an extra $56 a week.
Last month, The Age revealed Australia would allow 2000 overseas nurses and doctors to enter the country for work under a plan being finalised by the Commonwealth and states to ease a healthcare staffing crisis.
The Victorian Health Department estimates that since the start of the pandemic, the number of healthcare migrants joining the state’s workforce has plummeted by about 40 per cent.
This was due to the difficulty of recruiting doctors, nurses and allied health professionals from overseas while navigating border closures and quarantine arrangements.
A Victorian department of health spokesman said on Wednesday the state’s ICU nurses had been supported by surge support allowances, funding for more wellbeing support and increased training during the COVID-19 pandemic.
He said the government was also proactively recruiting extra ICU nurses to help ease pressure at hospitals.
The spokesman said there were now more ICU nurses in Victoria than there were before the pandemic, with the number of qualified critical care nurses increasing by 2.6 per cent between 2019 and 2020.
Soure: Sydney Morning Herald
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