Exhausted nurses’ goodwill is evaporating

A new survey reveals the NSW public health system is on the brink of collapse, goodwill to management from clinicians has all but disappeared and many doctors and nurses are exhausted and considering working elsewhere.

The Workplace Research Centre at University of Sydney examined the views and experiences of doctors and nurses about their current working conditions in the NSW public health system. The key issues identified in their subsequent report are:

  • Around 60% of nurses and doctors in NSW public hospitals have seriously considered leaving the system in the past 12 months;
  • Levels of trust between these clinicians and their hospital managers are among the lowest of any workforce in Australia. While around 70% of Australian workers report they can trust their manager to inform them about what is really happening at work, only 17% of doctors and 34% of nurses in NSW public hospitals have such trust;
  • Work intensification is more severe among these clinicians. While 50% of Australian workers report that more and more is expected of them each year at work, among NSW public sector doctors the proportion was 80% and among nurses a staggering 95%.

The survey revealed a culture of extreme hours worked by both doctors and nurses working full-time and part-time. While the majority (60%) of full-time nurses surveyed work between 40 and 50 hours a week, a further 8% work more than 50 hours a week.

On average, full-time doctors work 53 hours per week, and part-time doctors work, on average, 33 hours per week. Full-time nurses work, on average, 43 hours a week, while part-time nurses work, on average, 29 hours a week.

Two thirds (64%) of nurses surveyed undertake unpaid work. Of these, two thirds work an average 3.4 extra unpaid hours a week.

The authors of the report say that with such high average working hours, it is not surprising that levels of reported exhaustion are extremely high. Only 6% of public health system doctors and nurses reported that they are ‘rarely’ or ‘never’ exhausted at work, while more than half (52%) are ‘always’ or ‘usually’ exhausted. Alarmingly, junior doctors are always exhausted to some degree.