The Nursing and Midwifery Labour Force Survey is considered the definitive source of data on the nursing workforce. This takes information completed by nurses at the time of registration renewal and weights this up to the full numbers of those registered in each state and territory. Victoria has now made the survey compulsory. However, in recent years the response rate of other jurisdictions has fallen dramatically, such that the overall response rate for 2005 was down to 55%. Response rates from Western Australia and Northern Territory were so low that this data could not be considered reliable and should not be compared to other jurisdictions.

Data on the nursing workforce is also available in the ABS 2006 Census. This does not contain details of hours worked, sectors or principal areas of practice as covered in the labour force surveys, however, it provides good information on overall numbers of professionals. It is also available at a lower level of disaggregation, the SLA level.

Both these sources have been used, given each has inherent flaws, and attempts made to reconcile the data where differences exist to determine where there are shortages in the workforce.

Table 2.3.6 Nurses: FTE per 100,000 by states and territories, 2005

Table 2.3.6 provides Nursing and Midwifery Labour Force Survey 2005 data on the ratio of FTE nurses per 100,000 population employed in all states and territories.

NSW

Vic

Qld

WA

SA

Tas

ACT

NT

National

Registered nurses

8198917828009831,028951n.p.855

Enrolled nurses

152257137154305167193n.p.188

Total nurses

9721,1509209541,2881,1931,144n.p.1,044

(a) The total for Australia includes estimates for the NT and WA. Due to the relative size of the nursing and midwifery workforces in these jurisdictions, any biases in their estimates are unlikely to have a signifcant effect on the accuracy of the national figure.
(b) FTE, Full Time Equivalent is based upon a 38 hour week.
Source: AIHW, Nursing and Midwifery Labour Force Survey 2005.

Table 2.3.7 Nurses: Ratio per 100,000 population by state/territory and Remoteness Area, 2005

Information on the number of nurses in proportion to the populations by state and territory and remoteness is presented at Table 2.3.7 to allow for easier comparison. This shows that, although the distribution of nurses is relatively even when considered at the national level, there are considerable variations across states and territories and across Remoteness Areas within most jurisdictions.

Victoria has a relatively high rate of nurses across all Remoteness Areas of the state. South Australia has the highest number of nurses in proportion to its population overall. Although Tasmania has a proportionally high number of nurses overall, 'outer regional' and 'remote' areas are low.

New South Wales has significantly less nurses in proportion to its population overall. The nursing workforce is, however, relatively evenly distributed across the state. Nursing numbers across Queensland are the lowest in proportion to its population and are below the national average in all but very 'remote' areas.

The number of nurses in relation to the population of Western Australia is also below the national average, with a particularly low ratio of nurses to the population of 'inner regional' areas. Looking at the 2006 Census information at the SLA level, it appears that this might be due in part to lower rates of nurses in a number of larger regional areas, such as Bunbury, Busselton and Mandurah, which have increased dramatically in size in recent years. However, caution should be exercised in making this comparison due to the poor response in Western Australia to the survey. Data from the ABS 2006 Census of the SLA level has also been provided in Attachment D to supplement this information.

Major Cities

Inner Regional

Outer Regional

Remote

Very Remote

Total

NSW

1,0161,1571,0059511,1221,080

VIC

1,2451,4931,6681,638-1,375

QLD

1,0051,0131,0408661,1681,044

WA

1,1647721,1521,0181,1281,139

SA

1,5088761,3421,4701,3391,534

TAS

-1,5779117811,7991,369

ACT

1,156977---1,263

NT

--2,0521,4398591,710

National

1,1361,1991,1901,0901,0781,202

(a) The total for Australia includes estimates for the NT and WA. Due to the relative size of the nursing and midwifery workforces in these jurisdictions, any biases in their estimates are unlikely to have a significant effect on the accuracy of the national figure.
Source: AIHW, Nursing and Midwifery Labour Force Survey 2005.

Nurses form the largest and most evenly distributed health profession group working in rural and remote communities reflecting their vital role across these areas. However, there is a recognised shortage and high turnover of appropriately skilled nurses.

(Australian Nursing Federation submission)

Nurses represent approximately half the total health workforce and are employed in greater numbers in the public sector than any other profession (approximately two-thirds have a main job and a half a second job within the public sector). Their work is more tied to state health services, with 70% employed in hospitals, mental health services, residential aged facilities, community health services, hospices and schools. As such, information from states and territories is necessary to determine the number of unfilled vacancies within given areas or whether lower nursing ratios are the result of decisions regarding placement of and allocation of resources for the nursing workforce. Unfilled positions can be due to difficulties in attracting and adequately remunerating and supporting the workforce within these areas, but also may be attributable to undersupply of the nursing workforce overall.