Violence, stress up for nurses

July 13, 2005

NURSES are overworked, morale is deteriorating and violence is soaring in Queensland's health care facilities, a study has found.

A report into private and public sector nurses found an increase in the reporting of workplace violence and a nursing workforce "frustrated" and unable to provide safe and quality care to its patients.

It also found work stress was high and morale was poor and dropping.

The study, Nurses: Worth Listening To, by the University of Southern Queensland and the Queensland Nurses Union (QNU), was released today at the union's annual conference.

It will be given to the Morris inquiry into disgraced surgeon Jayant Patel and the Forster review investigating Queensland's ailing health system.

The report studied changes in the perceptions of 1,349 nurses about their jobs from 2001 to 2004.

In its most alarming finding, many nurses had experienced workplace violence in the past three months - 58 per cent in the aged care sector, 56 per cent in the public sector and 43 per cent in the private sector.

"The increasing levels of workplace violence would be the most significant change in data from 2001 to 2004," the report said.

"This study suggests that urgent attention is needed to areas such as workload and workplace violence."

Overall, 81 per cent of nurses reported that nursing workloads were "quite heavy" or "extremely heavy", while less than 16 per cent of nurses believed they were quite or extremely well rewarded.

Morale in the state's health facilities was seen as high by about 20 per cent of nurses across all sectors, and poor by 40 per cent of aged care nurses, 36 per cent of public nurses and 35 per cent of private nurses.

Low morale was linked with poor remuneration, limited opportunities for promotion, violence, a lack of resources and job insecurity, the report said.

Other major findings included nurses being poorly rewarded for their skills, a lack staff in the workplace, an inadequate skills mix, "rife" cost-cutting and decreasing standards of care.

"The overwhelming impression is of a workforce frustrated and unable to provide safe and quality care to their patients, clients, and residents in the time allocated," one of the report's authors, Professor Desley Hegney, told the conference.

The results suggested Queensland would continue to face problems with the recruitment and retention of its nurses, she said.

"It is great to have this research at our fingertips to be able to give to both these inquiries," QNU state secretary Gay Hawksworth said.