Fast looming nurse shortage not new news – lack of action is the concern

13 November 2014

The "extremely slow" progress by Health Workforce New Zealand in responding to the fast looming nursing shortage has been criticised by nursing union NZNO.

Susanne Trim, professional services manager for the New Zealand Nurses Organisation said the snapshot of health workforce data released yesterday by Health Workforce New Zealand was "useful' but "not new information".

HWNZ's  Health of the Health Workforce Report 2013 to 2014 noted the need to train nurses in greater numbers by 2017 "when retirement among the ageing (nurse) workforce becomes a critical factor".  The HWNZ report draws on last year's Nursing Council's The Future Nursing Workforce: Supply Projections 2010-2035 report which predicts a nursing shortage hitting from 2020 onwards with action needed from next year.

"We identified the urgent need to address the pending crisis a number of years ago," said Trim. She said NZNO would have expected there to be a strategy by now of working with education providers, DHB and nursing organisations in the face of this predicted nursing shortage.

"Progress at a national level has been extremely slow with little attention and priority given to nursing workforce planning until late last year," said Trim.

HWNZ executive chair Professor Des Gorman told Nursing Review in early 2013 that nursing would be a top priority that year as he was "losing sleep" worrying about the looming nurse shortfall.

There also has been ongoing concern expressed by the sector about nursing graduates struggling to find work as low vacancies and tight budgets have seen new graduate positions in public hospitals plateau and stagnate in recent years while graduate cohorts have been growing strongly up from 1230 in 2010 to about 1800 in 2013.  The government has increased funded places on new graduate programmes to 1300 for 2015 but still falls short of the call by NZNO for all new graduates to have a guaranteed place on a new graduate programme.

That Nursing Council supply report predicting nursing shortages was released publically over a year ago, but the findings have been circulating amongst nursing and health leaders for almost two years.  The supply report, commissioned from economic research firm BERL, said action was needed "quickly" as the lack of clinical placements currently restricting nursing student numbers would “inevitably result in nursing shortages without a supply/side intervention by 2015” (see links below to related Nursing Review articles)

The report also reflected international nursing workforce forecasting including across the Tasman where Australia's own looming shortage is expected to put further pressure on New Zealand's nursing workforce.

The National Nursing Organisations (NNO) group made up of nine key nursing stakeholder organisations (including NZNO, the College of Nurses and the Nursing Council) also said in its report in June to HWNZ that by 2017 the number of nursing students in undergraduate programmes needed to be increased to meet health needs and an intervention was needed by 2015 to make this happen.

The NNO group is currently working with HWNZ and the Office of the Chief Nurse on establishing a nursing workforce programme with workforce streams in workforce planning and improving graduate recruitment being set up in the latter half of 2014.  That work follows up on the first HWNZ workshop focussing on nursing that was held in late November in 2013.

"Significant work is still required to determine how greater numbers will be educated to meet future shortages, and how graduate nurses will be guaranteed employment into supported positions," said Trim. "We look forward to working closely with other nursing organisations, HWNZ and the Ministry of Health to develop an effective nursing workforce plan for now and into the future.”

Gorman says in his foreword to the companion The Role of Health Workforce New Zealand report that the past five years had seen HWNZ lead a "comprehensive response to the workforce challenges faced in New Zealand in 2009". 

"HWNZ was established to provide guidance and leadership in the health sector," writes Gorman.  "It is heartening to see at the end of five years that many of our health workforces in New Zealand are no longer in crisis."

See related stories: Nursing shortage report released November 2013  

Nursing shortage report goes to Council July 2013

Click here to download: HWNZ Health of the Health Workforce 2013 to 2014 and

The Future Nursing Workforce: Supply Projections 2010-2035