Tue. May 17th, 2022

Australia went into the pandemic with 337,000 registered nurses and produces around 20,000 nursing graduates each year. It is also increasingly dependent on skilled migration to get experienced nurses to supplement the workforce and make it more difficult to fill jobs in regional areas and geriatric care.

Figures from the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation show that skilled migrants make up 21 per cent of all newly registered nurses. In Victoria, overseas trained doctors make up 23 per cent of total doctors and 30 per cent of doctors in regional areas.

The Victorian Ministry of Health estimates that the number of health migrants joining the state workforce has fallen by about 40 percent since the start of the pandemic. A department spokesman said this was due to the difficulty of recruiting doctors, nurses and allied health professionals from abroad while navigating border closures and quarantine events.

Ward said this could create a long-term problem for Australia’s healthcare.

“If we do nothing to secure our graduates as well as maintain the international pipeline, we will be caught up in the worldwide shortage that is coming,” she said.

Despite the federal government including nursing in its list of priority occupations for skilled migrants and offering more than 3,100 special medical visas to doctors and nurses to come here to work, future health migrants have been denied travel exemptions and visas and denied flights.

The impact of this is felt acutely on our hospital wards, general practitioners and nursing homes and also on the university and college programs, where, until the pandemic, there was a steady stream of nurses from countries like India and the Philippines enrolled in three month bridge courses to get registration in Australia.

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La Trobe University confirmed that its admission program for international nurses had been “severely disrupted” by international border closures, and it had no admission of students this year. At Central Queensland University, enrollments for her master’s degree in nursing have dropped from 70 students last year to just three this year. Southern Cross University used to train nearly 300 international nurses a year on its Lismore campus in NSW. Nobody has signed up for this at the moment.

Although this is due in part to the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia changing its admission requirements for overseas nurses, it suggests that many overseas nurses are abandoning Australia. In 2019, the Australian College of Nursing had a waiting list of 3,000 people to do its course. The waiting list is now down to 300 and its current intake has only two nurses from abroad.

One of them is a 31-year-old cardiac theater nurse from Manila, nicknamed Cham, who is starting a job at a suburban hospital in Melbourne. She was accepted to the course before the pandemic, but when Australia’s borders were closed, her application for travel exemption was rejected five times.

She is one of seven Filipino nurses who had planned to come to Australia together. Instead, two of them held out and eventually took the trip. “It’s surprising, especially when you see the news about the need for nurses and that nurses here are already exhausted,” said Cham, who asked that her real name not be disclosed.

“There are five nurses waiting in the Philippines for a miracle to happen and their visas are about to expire. It’s really hard and mentally degrading, but you have to keep hoping and praying. ”

There is a split between the College of Nursing and the Nurses’ Union over the extent to which Australia should rely on overseas nurses, especially those from poorer countries. The union claims that it is unethical for Australia to draw on nurses from low-income countries who are facing their own shortage of health workers.

“Overseas recruitment should not be the primary strategy for overcoming labor shortages in Australia or as an alternative to training and recruitment opportunities for the existing domestic workforce,” the union wrote in a recent post to the government.

The Australian Assistant Secretary of the Nurses ‘and Midwives’ Association, Lori-Anne Sharpe, said there was no “quick fix” to Australia’s healthcare staff problems, with a shortage of experienced nurses and the underemployment of graduate nurses.

“This is the accumulation of decades of problems in labor planning,” she said. “We would not support stealing from countries without resources that have really high demands.”

The Australian College of Nursing’s Ward said that while Australia should do better to support and retain its own graduates, it should also keep the doors open for overseas nurses with diverse backgrounds.

Australian College of Nursing CEO Kylie Ward

Australian College of Nursing CEO Kylie Ward

“It is a female-dominated profession, so you provide opportunities for women they would not otherwise have. Who are we to say no if they meet the criteria? We are part of a global system and should encourage diversity and opportunities. ”

Mr Hunt agreed that it was important for Australia to continue to attract healthcare workers from all parts of the world. He also said that in his haste to attract more doctors and nurses to respond to the immediate pressure of the pandemic, Australia could not compromise on the standard of practice it required. “Security is, as always, the number one priority,” he said.

Mr Hunt is due to meet with Ward, shop stewards and others to discuss the weaknesses of Australia’s overstretched healthcare staff.

State governments already run targeted recruitment schemes for doctors and nurses abroad. Western Australia has offered to pay for flights and quarantine costs for health migrants, and Victoria has been recruiting more than 200 international health workers since August.

Of these, about 100 are still stuck in their home countries, waiting for a flight.

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