A survey of 4,000 primary health care nurses has found that one in four are considering leaving their role in the next two to five years.
It also found that three-quarters of respondents reported feeling exhausted, stressed or burnt out at work.
The Australian Primary Health Care Nurse’s Association (APNA) said its 2022 Workforce Survey is the country's most comprehensive of primary health care nurses.
It said the findings based on the responses of 4,000 nurses demonstrate the urgency behind efforts to retain experienced nurses and establish sustainable recruitment and training pipelines.
APNA President Karen Booth said, “Australia is at risk of not having enough suitably trained primary health care nurses to staff aged care homes, general practices, and other primary health care settings in coming years.
“This loss of nursing skills represents a significant lost opportunity for the Australian health system, employers, and patients.
“We are not only talking about a loss of workforce investment here, but we are also talking about the loss of corporate knowledge that we would normally expect would train and support the new workforce entrants— that is, renewal of the workforce.
“If this was happening in big corporate business, there would be an outcry.”
Ms Booth said the reasons for this vary from sector to sector. She said aged care nurses feel overwhelmed by constant change and uncertainty over whether they will receive the 15 per cent pay increase ordered by Australia's Fair Work Commission and continued poor staffing levels.
According to Ms Booth, nurses in general practice are poorly utilised, while nurse practitioners are restricted from using the additional skills they have learned through their advanced training and experience.
“Primary health nurses are one of the most affordable and effective ways of keeping patients with chronic health conditions as healthy as they can be, well managed and out of hospital,” she said.
“Patients deserve to receive treatment and education from nurses who are well-resourced and aren’t run off their feet with too much else to do.
“We can’t afford to have highly skilled, experienced and motivated primary health care nurses leaving the profession when there is so much work to be done to keep people well and out of hospital, including cardiovascular education and management, vaccinations, wound care and primary health care screening.
“These figures also demonstrate the urgency behind efforts to establish sustainable recruitment and training pipelines to bring through Australia’s next generation of primary health care nurses to sustain the workforce,” said Ms Booth.
Ms Booth said that Albanese Government initiatives such as the national Scope of Practice review, 6,000 additional primary health care clinical placements, 1,850 graduate Nurse Practitioner scholarships, and incentives to get primary health nurses back into the workforce would make a difference in retention.
She called on the government to build on this progress by accelerating and committing to funding the delivery of the Nursing Workforce Strategy.
“Now is the time for a call to arms for nurses to help inform the future direction of our workforce,” she said.
“Decision makers in state, territory, and federal governments and health departments can make a real difference to primary health care nurses by ensuring they are highly visible in health policy development and that the collective voice of primary health care nursing continues to be heard in all future reviews.”