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Nurses who should be in hot demand are turning an eye to the unemployment queue, with 500 graduates struggling to find work even as a chronic nursing crisis looms.
As of yesterday, just 782 new graduates from a total of 1328 who applied for positions on nursing entry programmes had been offered jobs.
Young nurses say it's a "terrifying" time to be looking for work, while training institutions and the nursing union say the Government needs to intervene.
As the population ages, and diabetes emerges as a growing health threat, it is predicted hospitals will need thousands more nurses to cope.
The most recent Nursing Council report says that, if action is not taken, the shortage will be approaching 15,000 nurses by 2035.
But Health Workforce New Zealand is confident the employment issue will be resolved in the coming months, as vacancies open up nationwide.
Some hospitals are already struggling to cope with current nursing staff levels, with Hutt and Wairarapa among those to introduce "care rationing" - deciding who to look after based on greatest need.
But at the same time, new graduates are struggling to find jobs - and leaving the country or turning to other careers, Massey University school of nursing professor Jenny Carryer said.
"It's more of a concern than it's ever been before, because we know that demand for healthcare is increasing." District health boards were not being funded enough to maintain the level of care that was necessary, leading to care rationing, she said.
"Politicians hate that term, and they will argue black and blue that it's not true, but we know it happens.
"The demand for healthcare is rising rapidly.
"It's absolutely awful to watch the faces of people who have slogged through a three-year degree who have their hearts set on becoming nurses, and to see their anxiety at thinking they may end up unemployed . . . what can we tell them?"
In Wellington, 46 nurses have been offered jobs from more than 300 applicants.
Meanwhile, Wairarapa has seven students, where originally four were planned, and Hutt Valley has 25, against a planned 11.
Capital & Coast District Health Board director of primary care nursing Vicky Noble said there had been a lot of competition, with a big talent pool who had not secured positions.
"It's the story that makes the minister shiver and it's not the great story to tell, but it is the reality this year."
Inroads were being made in finding positions for nurses outside Wellington Hospital, with 17 of this year's new nurses in aged and residential care, doctors' clinics, low-cost access clinics, and Southern Cross Hospital.
"This is the way we need to be heading, and things are starting to change."
Health Workforce New Zealand executive chairman Des Gorman acknowledged it was a stressful time for graduates, but said the "vast majority" should secure jobs in the coming months.
"It's always going to cause people anxiety, and I can understand that. We need to manage the transition of nurses into the workforce better than what's happened in the past, but we're in a miles better place than we were a few years ago."
Health Minister Tony Ryall said taking nurse graduates longer to get placement was an international trend. "I am sure more graduate nurses will find jobs in the next few months, including in aged care, GP clinics and private hospitals."
- The Dominion Post
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