Nursing supply rises

Australia's nursing supply increased in 2003, according to a new report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

Nursing and midwifery labour force 2003 shows that nursing supply in Australia rose from 1,031 full-time equivalent (FTE) nurses per 100,000 population in 2001 to 1,106 FTE nurses in 2003.

Head of the AIHW's Labour Force and Rural Health Unit, Glenice Taylor, said that the 2003 estimates, if confirmed by subsequent years' figures, could 'signal a reversal of the downward trend in nursing supply recorded in recent years'.

The overall rise in nursing supply in 2003 was associated with an increase in average hours worked, after a steady decline over the 1997-2001 period. Average weekly hours worked increased from 30.7 hours in 2001 to 32.5 hours in 2003.

The report shows a 5.1% increase in the total number of registered and enrolled nurses between 2001 and 2003, to just over 273,300. This figure includes nurses working in nursing (87%) and nurses looking for work in nursing (a low 2%) as well as about 12,000 qualified nurses (4%) who were working outside the nursing profession, but were not looking for work in nursing.

The number of employed registered nurses increased by 3.2% over the same period, from 183,224 in 2001 to 189,071 in 2003, and the number of employed enrolled nurses increased by 5.7%, from 45,006 to 47,574.

'We can also see an association between the increase in nurses' hours and the smaller proportion of nurses working part-time', Ms Taylor said. 'In 2003, half of employed nurses worked part-time-the lowest proportion over the last 6 years. This was a decrease of about 3 percentage points from 2001.'

Between 2001 and 2003 the numbers of employed nurses rose in all states and territories except Western Australia, where numbers fell by 2.9%. In terms of nursing supply, however, all states and territories experienced increases over the period.

The nursing workforce continued to age, with an average age of 43.1 years in 2003, compared with 40.3 years in 1997. About 46% of nurses were aged 45 years or more in 2003.

Other findings in Nursing and midwifery labour force 2003 include:

  • Nurses working in the area of midwifery also increased, from 224 FTE nurses per 100,000 population in 2001 to 255 FTE nurses in 2003-after a decline between 1999 (245 FTE) and 2001.
  • Nurses in Tasmania were more likely to be older (45.5 years on average) than their colleagues in other states and territories.
  • In South Australia, nurses were most likely to work part-time (55.9% compared with 50.0% nationally).
  • Nursing remains a predominantly female occupation. The number and proportion of male nurses is increasing, but slowly-from 19,085 in 2001 to 20,434 in 2003.


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