24 Apr 2023

Australian nurses not keen to work in New Zealand, data shows

11:23 am on 24 April 2023
Coronavirus in Australia Female Doctor Portrait hold protect Face surgical medical mask with Australia National Flag. Illness, Virus Covid-19 in Australia, concept photo

Just 164 Australian nurses registered to work here in the six months to March. Photo: 123RF

Australian nurses are nowhere near as keen as their Kiwi counterparts to cross the Tasman, with only a tiny number registering to work here.

RNZ revealed earlier this month 5000 Kiwi nurses registered to work in Australia in the seven months until March.

But latest figures, which cover the six months to March, show just 164 Australian nurses registered to work here - about 3 percent of the flow the other way.

Christchurch health recruiter Prudence Thomson lures nurses from all over the world to New Zealand, but said she had only recruited about six Australian nurses in 25 years.

Australia's size and scale meant its hospitals could offer higher short-term contract rates - and nurses had a lot of opportunity in their own backyard.

"The motivation of an Aussie nurse to come to New Zealand isn't great," Thomson said.

"When they can experience a lot of different cultures and a lot of different nursing and clinical experiences around Australia in different states, coming to New Zealand just isn't as attractive."

But she had a pitch for why they might want to change their mind.

"What New Zealand has to offer may not be the money, it's the lifestyle. We don't have snakes or spiders like they do in Australia - and the extreme temperatures, we have great ski fields... and that's what we sell New Zealand on," she said.

The trans-Tasman data came from the Nursing Council, New Zealand's nursing registration body. Director of research and policy Nyk Huntington said it was probably just a reflection of wider society - that, in general, more New Zealanders moved to Australia than vice versa.

But New Zealand Nurses Organisation kaiwhakahaere Kerri Nuku believed there was more at play - that Australian nurses had their ear to the ground.

"They have heard about the nursing crisis. They've heard from colleagues from New Zealand that had gone over and worked that New Zealand's not necessarily the best place to work at the moment."

The Nursing Council had just started releasing its registration data quarterly. It also showed the number of international nurses with an annual practicing certificate had grown by about 4000 in the year to March to about 25,300.

Annual practicing certificates had to be renewed every year by nurses who were either working or intending to work.

Huntington said the data would encompass those working - but also those simply keen to be able to work.

People could also renew the certificates from offshore, he said.

"What we don't know is how many of those nurses have arrived in New Zealand yet, so this can only ever tell us part of that story."

International nurses were driving the overall increase in the workforce, with the total number of nurses with a practicing certificate growing from 65,400 to 69,500 in the year to March.

The data could not reveal what the current nursing shortage in hospitals and other services was.

Nuku said the union's best estimate was between 4000 and 5000.

"It actually feels to be getting worse, but in terms of the exact number, we've got no idea of what they are except the pressures that we're hearing from our nurses every day. Every ward, across the country nurses are short."

The Nursing Council data is collated quarterly, so does not match exactly with the August-to-March figure of nearly 5000 New Zealand nurses registering in Australia.

But, even when the number of Australians registering to work here was totalled from June, it was still only 215.

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