‘Grave’ fears for future of nursing and midwifery as survey reveals fatigue worse than ever  

13 September 2021

At a time when our health system is under ever-increasing pressure and in the face of the challenges posed by the COVID pandemic, fatigue and burnout levels among South Australia’s nurses and midwives are higher than they have ever been, the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (SA Branch) reports.

A new ANMF (SA Branch) survey has revealed that almost a staggering 70% of nurses and midwives reported working unpaid overtime, with 25% working double shifts. The Women’s and Children’s Health Network had the greatest proportion of nurses/midwives working double shifts (34.3%), an obvious danger to the young patients in their care given the potential for fatigue.

And ominously over half of the respondents had intentions to leave sometime within the next five years (56.1%). This comes at a time when the public health system is already dangerously understaffed, under-resourced and struggling to cope with demand.

More than 3,000 people participated in the six-week survey conducted in May and June this year, the high response rate being an indication of just how widespread the issues of fatigue and burnout are.

Depersonalisation was trending in a worsening direction and was highest among those who had worked double shifts; were under 30 years; had 1-10 years’ professional experience and, most concerningly, were planning to exit their role within the next 12 months.

“Overall, this pattern of data suggests 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,’’ ANMF (SA Branch) CEO/Secretary Adj Associate Professor Elizabeth Dabars AM said.

“We have grave concerns for workforce capacity in the future which is intrinsically linked to burnout and fatigue as evidenced in the survey results,’’ Ms Dabars said.

“Health Workforce Australia in 2014 projected a shortfall of approximately 85,000 nurses/ midwives by 2025, and 123,000 nurses/ midwives by 2030.’’

“There is no active work being undertaken to build the future nursing and midwifery workforce at the levels and with the skills that our community will need.

“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.

“Less than half of graduates from our universities are able to enter into graduate programs (Transition to Professional Practice Programs) within the public health system, meaning that we run the risk of losing them to interstate or overseas employment,’’ Ms Dabars said.

“We have clear shortages in areas such as mental health, critical care, emergency nursing, peri-operative care and midwifery. Country areas have the additional disadvantage of trying to recruit in these areas of shortage with few additional incentives to offer.”

The results of the survey have been sent to the CEOs of SA Health and all local health networks, urging them to take action.

“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,’’ Ms Dabars said.

“If the State Government yet again fails to act on these significant survey results, then we are most certainly facing a major health crisis in the very near future. Inaction by Government and SA Health means that they are complicit in creating ongoing crises in the workforce.’’

Please view the survey here