Overhauls needed to slow nurse and midwife exodus

There are fresh calls to address widespread burnout and trauma amongst nurses and midwives or risk a devastating loss of experienced clinical staff from the state’s public health system.

A new report commissioned by the NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association (NSWNMA) has revealed 15 in every 100 nurses and midwives surveyed are suffering symptoms of post-traumatic stress at clinical levels. Overwork, exhaustion and burnout were identified as key contributors.

According to the report, ‘Impacts of COVID-19 and workloads on NSW nurses and midwives’ mental health and wellbeing, over half (58%) of those who responded to questions on career intentions plan to leave their current roles within the next five years, and 37% plan to go within 12 months. Overall, 22% indicated they want to leave the health profession entirely.

NSWNMA General Secretary, Shaye Candish, said prevention and early intervention measures must be adopted to stop nurses and midwives from getting injured and combat the growing levels of psychological harm being experienced across the workforce.

“The findings of this report are sobering. Unless there’s urgent investment in protecting the psychosocial wellbeing and mental health of nurses and midwives, they will continue to be injured and leave, which will compound staffing shortfalls even further,” said Ms Candish.

“Ensuring adequate staffing and skill mix, improved reporting of workplace psychosocial hazards, and increased risk mitigation measures to address occupational violence are some of the prevention measures we need implemented.

“We’re also calling for an overhaul of the current Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to better support staff following traumatic incidents.

“Rather than trying to normalise the trail of destruction COVID-19 has left, we need a system-wide, solutions driven focus and we’re calling on the government to work with us to tackle these issues.

“A concerted effort is needed to restore professional pride and fulfillment, which will enable nurses and midwives to stay motivated and keep delivering the clinical care we trust only them to provide.”

Rosemary Bryant AO Research Centre’s Greg Sharplin, Research and Strategy manager and Senior Research Fellow, who led the study found many staff had reported their workload was too high.

“It’s evident the NSW public health system is experiencing considerable strain, as nurses and midwives are leaving their current roles due to overwork and burnout, or are planning to leave soon,” noted Mr Sharplin, who analysed the data of over 2,300 respondents.

The report found better pay, better workplace support and reduced workloads were the top three retention measures to stay.

Early career nurses and midwives (those with one to four years of experience) were identified as the most vulnerable. They were asked to do double shifts more often (75.2%), were asked to work outside their area of expertise more and received more abuse from the public while at work.

NSWNMA Assistant General Secretary, Michael Whaites, said the issues were felt across the board at major tertiary hospitals in metropolitan areas to remote and regional health facilities, including Multipurpose Services.

“Across the state, nurses and midwives work shift after shift short staffed and the system is reliant on excessive amounts of overtime,” said Mr Whaites.

“Nurses and midwives are shouldering the failings of the healthcare system and this report clearly shows the damage this is doing.

“Patient care in these working conditions is being compromised and that is taking a significant toll on nurses and midwives because, as trained clinicians, they want to be giving the best possible care.

“This report is an indictment on the lack of intervention by the Perrottet Government. There is ample evidence that shows working under these conditions is psychologically damaging nurses and midwives.

“As the state’s largest health workforce employer, we’re calling the government to abandon its individual ‘resilience’ focused approach, to take responsibility and act.”

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