SA nurses hit by fatigue and burnout

Union representative Elizabeth Dabars says SA is facing a generational loss of nurses and midwives.
Union representative Elizabeth Dabars says SA is facing a generational loss of nurses and midwives.

Nurses are feeling burnt out as they work unpaid overtime, including double shifts, with more than half planning to leave the industry within five years, a new survey in South Australia has revealed.

The survey of 3000 nurses over a six-week period in May and June came as the state's health system is under increasing pressure from the COVID-19 pandemic prompting unprecedented levels of fatigue, the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation says.

It found that 70 per cent reported working unpaid overtime while 56 per cent of nurses intended to leave at a time when public health was already dangerously understaffed, under-resourced and struggling to cope with demand.

"We are facing a generational loss of younger nurses and midwives because of the pressure placed on them by the system to work in such demanding and fatiguing environments,'' SA branch chief executive Elizabeth Dabars said.

"We have grave concerns for workforce capacity in the future which is intrinsically linked to burnout and fatigue."

Ms Dabars said Health Workforce Australia in 2014 projected a national shortfall of about 85,000 nurses and midwives by 2025 and 123,000 nurses and midwives by 2030 yet there was nothing being done to build the future workforce.

"Much of the fatigue being experienced now has arisen from shortages in the workforce, not due to COVID alone but through health system managers and governments being asleep at the wheel," she said.

"Less than half of graduates from our universities are able to enter into graduate programs within the public health system, meaning that we run the risk of losing them to interstate or overseas employment.

"We have clear shortages in areas such as mental health, critical care, emergency nursing, peri-operative care and midwifery.

"The chronic issue of fatigue and burnout amongst nurses and midwives has never been in such urgent need of redress as it is right now."

Health Minister Stephen Wade said pressures on the health system and the workforce were being seen right across the country.

"Whether it's a low COVID state or an outbreak state, there's been significant demands on the hospital network," he said.

The minister said efforts were already underway to recruit an extra 150 nurses in the Central Adelaide Local Health Network.

"We take the workforce needs very seriously," he said.

Premier Steven Marshall said all nurses had done a fantastic job in keeping South Australians safe during the pandemic.

"They've had to work long hours. This is the same situation right around the country, right around the world," he said.

"Health professionals are in short supply."

Australian Associated Press