Registered nurse job ads are up 39% on the same period last year, according to the latest online job ad statistics – while primary and secondary teacher ads have both fallen.

This week the 20 District Health Boards, New Zealand Nurses Organisation and Director-General of Health signed a Minister of Health brokered safe staffing Accord to address growing concern over unsafe nursing levels impacting on both nurses and patients.

Primary school teachers and principals this week also voted to follow DHB nurses in taking strike action in support of the teachers’ claim for a pay rise of about 16% over two years to help address a current teaching recruitment crisis, particularly a 40% drop-off in the number of teachers training over the past six years.

At the same time the NZNO’s DHB members started voting on a 5th offer from the DHBs which includes a commitment to pay equity, pay increases of between 9-15.9% over three years (plus a $2000 pro rata lump sum in lieu of backpay), along with calculating and funding the extra nurses required to ensure safe staffing by implementing the long sought-after care capacity demand management (CCDM) system. The agreement includes $38 million to be immediately spent employing up to 500 extra nurses across the 20 DHBs in areas of most concern but some nurses say this will not be enough to address understaffing – particularly if the nurses taken on are new graduates needing mentoring and support.

Job statistic trends for nurses and teachers

Job vacancy trends on the major internet job boards – SEEK, Trade Me Jobs, the Education Gazette (where nearly all teacher jobs are advertised) and Kiwi Health Jobs (where nearly all DHB jobs are advertised) – are monitored by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) as an indicator of different industries demand for staff.

On Tuesday MBIE released its latest Jobs Online summary report for the three months up to June 30 and noted that, year to date, the increasing number of  health sector job ads made it one of the two sectors with the strongest total growth in vacancies (the other being the business/legal/administration sector).

The report shows registered nurses job vacancies were up 39% on the same quarter last year and nurse manager jobs by 16% with both increases described as being “statistically significant” because of the number of vacancies involved. (Enrolled nurse vacancies were also up by 29% but because of the small numbers involved the increase was not regarded as statistically significant.)  Other health professions also had major increases with the highest statistically significant increases including occupational therapists (77%), psychologists (49%) and non-GP medical practitioners (53%).

In the education sector there was a very steep increase in the number of school principal ads (90%), and increases in ads for  ‘other’ education managers (34%) and early childhood teachers (2%). But for primary school teachers there was a 15% decrease in online job ads compared to the same period last year and a 17% decrease in secondary school teacher advertisements.

These trends were also reflected in current ads on the Education Gazette website which was dominated by 433 ads for early childhood teachers compared to 208 for primary school teachers and 173 for secondary teachers. Of the about 101,000 teachers with current practising certificates about 37,000 are primary school teachers, 26,000 secondary teachers and 21,000 early childhood teachers.

On the Kiwi Health Jobs website about 320 of the 878 DHB clinical jobs being advertised this week were for nurses – and roughly a third of the nurse jobs were for mental health positions. At present there are more than 55,000 nurses with annual practising certificates with roughly half (about 27,500) working for district health boards.

Nurse sick leave and accrued annual leave trends

The average number of sick days being taken by district health board nurses is on the way up and the days of annual leave down, according to DHB statistics.

One of the staffing issues voiced by DHB nurses during the current pay talks is short staffing making it difficult to take annual leave as well as leading to the cancelling of study days and leave.

For the last 18 months the DHBs have been reporting in their quarterly workforce reports.on trends in sick leave hours and annual leave accrual over the previous 12 months by occupation grouping and DHB by DHB.

The latest quarterly statistics to March 31 this year appear to show that the majority of nurses are increasingly taking all their sick leave but at the same time are struggling to take their annual leave – with on average nurses having outstanding annual leave equivalent to 95 per cent of their year’s entitlement. Also that staff at nine of the 20 DHBs had on average accrued more annual leave than their annual leave entitlement.

The report also shows that the average annual sick leave hours taken by nurses were 68.6 hours (8.5 days) which was up on the same period the previous year but less than the peak in last year’s winter quarter report of 83 hours (10.3 days) over the previous 12 months.  The occupation sector taking the most sick leave hours on average was the care and support workforce and taking the least was the junior doctors.

The DHBs most recent nursing workforce trend report was published in 2015 and looked at  nursing data trends from 2007-2014 which had started to show a consistent increase in nurse numbers of about 2% a year – roughly the same as the average national population growth. (The New Zealand population’s highest growth in recent years was 2.1% in 2016-17 with the greatest growth being in the Auckland region which grew by 2.6%).

Whether the 2% growth in nurses matches the growth in clinical need of an ageing population with increasingly complex co-morbidities and higher patient turnover will not be known until the CCDM calculations are made on what nurse levels are required to deliver safe patient care. The March 2018 report does confirm a continuing trend of higher ratios of DHB nurses per 100,000 people in recent years but also shows that ten of the country’s DHBs had nurse ratios less than the national average – including the two fast growing DHB regions of Waitemata and Counties-Manukau.

The 2015 workforce trend report also found the mean annual turnover rate for registered nurses has fluctuated between 9% and 10.5% over the previous five years. (NB the period 2009-2014 included the impact of the global financial crisis which saw a worldwide trend of  improved nursing retention and recruitment.)

Since that report the mean length of time nurses have served at DHBs has increased from 8.8 years in 2014 to 9.2 years in 2018 and the average age has decreased from a peak of 45.7 years old to just under 44 years old.

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