Sharp drop in Kiwi nurses crossing Tasman

2 July 2014

The number of Kiwi nurses seeking to cross the Tasman has dropped sharply by about a third and is at the lowest level for about a decade.

Preliminary data from the Nursing Council indicates that just over 1000 nurses sought verification to work in Australia in the 12 months leading up to 31 March 2014 compared with nearly 1500 the year before.

The number of nurses seeking to work in other countries like the USA and UK has also fallen, with the result that only 1280 nurses in total sought verification, down nearly 1000 from the peak of nearly 2300 in 2011-2012.

“Which I guess is good news,” says Nursing Council chief executive Carolyn Reed.

She also points out that while people seek verification to work overseas, it doesn’t mean all will actually leave.

“It doesn’t necessarily mean that we lose them to practice in New Zealand, because we are aware of some nurses who hold dual registration and who do temporary contracts in Australia.”

The decline in verification mirrors the overall fall-off in New Zealanders crossing the Tasman, with the net loss to Australia down to just over 11,000 people – well down on the previous year’s 34,000 net migration loss. The monthly net loss of migrants across the Tasman in April 2014 was also the lowest since such data started being collected in 1996.

Record new graduates registered

A record 1788 new graduate RNs were registered in the year to March 2014, initial Nursing Council data indicates. When combined with the nearly 120 new enrolled nurses, this brought the new New Zealand-trained nurses on the register up to 1907.

“It’s massive, really,” said Reed.

It was also ahead of the projected growth recommended in the Nursing Council’s BERL nursing supply report, which said to maintain the same nurse-to-New Zealander ratio in 2035 the number of graduate nurses would need to grow from about 1500 in 2010 to 2,200 a year by 2035. (To meet the high needs scenario, it was suggested the number of new graduates would have to rise to nearly 3000 by 2035).

But the desired surge in new graduates to meet projected future demand has also come at a time when the ongoing impact of the recession means low nurse turnover – including delayed retirements and few nurses heading overseas – and very tight district health board budgets,

“We’re in an interesting situation where everyone is predicting shortages but there aren’t a lot of jobs around for nurses (at present),” says Reed. 

Newsfeed stories for latest graduate job hunting numbers,  indicated that about 230, or 17 per cent, of November graduates were still job hunting six months later. (see NewsFeed)

But Reed says, looking at the council figures, the number of new graduates nursing in New Zealand appeared to be possibly above Australia’s graduate employment levels.

Australian trade unions recently called for a tightening of temporary work visas for nurses, with nearly 3100 brought in annually to fill nursing positions, which they estimated was about the same number of graduates turned away by public and private hospital employers.